Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

23 Nov

I just read several of these early Carver stories and I wonder what others have to say about them. Here are some questions about each:

“The Bath”: This story is about communication, or rather, how bad we are at it, and yet how important it seems to be. Track the various attempts to communicate and their outcomes. What sort of failures can you find, and what are the consequences? How might things have been different if everyone was able to express themselves more effectively? The baker example is the obvious one. I’m interested in more subtle exchanges.

“Tell the Women We’re Going”: This is an unusually violent Carver story; at least, the violence more directly concerns the main characters. What else is comparatively odd about this story, in terms of point of view, characterization, use of time, and so on?

“After the Denim” is subtle compared to the other stories mentioned above. And yet, one of the characters is clearly facing serious medical problems. Is there any relief for the bad luck of these rather sympathetic characters? Seems to me there is, but is it enough?

“So Much Water So Close to Home”: Here is a story that might be compared to “Tell the Women…” The main male character here is not a murderer, of course, but he’s cold, and it seems the point of view character is suddenly seeing that men in general are threatening, are all potential monsters. How can you explain the sudden turn at the very end of the story? Why does the wife react to her husband’s advance like this?

“The Third Thing that Killed My Father Off”: If men can be evil, this story seems to suggest, so can women.My question about this story is about narration. The object of the story, Dummy, doesn’t get to tell his own story. The father, who also is part of the story, doesn’t either. Dummy’s wife certainly has no say in things, or the narrator’s mother. So why is the kid, Jack, telling this story, which really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with him? What affect might the story have on Jack? What does it say about him that he apparently needs to tell this story?

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25 Responses to “Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”

  1. Isaac Lauritsen November 25, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    In “The Bath”, one of the more interesting interactions the parents have is with the doctor. Carver makes a point to say that the doctor is handsome, he has tan skin, which makes the mother figure that he has come from an important conference of some sorts where he received a metal. This instills a trust in her for the doctor. From here he assures her that the boy is not in a coma when it is fairly clear that he is. Further along in the story, the doctor insists that the boy’s “signs are fine” yet he is still asleep. The doctor seems to continuously stray away from the point by dealing with other problems – the mother’s lack of sleep and food – to keep the parents uninformed about the boy’s condition. It’s hard to say what exactly could have changed if the doctor was more straight forward with the condition of the boy, but perhaps the truth would have given the parents a better idea of how to help their son get better.

    Time is greatly manipulated in the “Tell the Women We’re Going”. In the first section of the story – Jerry and Bill’s background story – years jump within paragraphs. The way Bill moves from graduation to a job to joining the National Guard to going steady with Linda, it seems abrupt when we find out that they are only twenty two. The two men seem like they’re fairly older with what they do in their free time – they have family barbecues, they’re a part of Friday-night bowling leagues, and they can barely make it up the hill without running out of breath. It doesn’t seem like things that twenty-two-year-olds would do. This further implies the idea of time moving quickly. Although the two men have known each other for most of their lives, by the end of the story Bill seems like he barely knows who Jerry is. He states that all he wanted to do is have sex with the women or at least see them naked, but he never expects what Jerry does. In the beginning of the story the reader is told that the two men used to “bang” and date the same women, so when Jerry uses vulgar terms for the two women, it seems like he just has a way of speaking disrespectfully. I think this is all we’re supposed to take away from Jerry’s language, which makes the ending even more upsetting than the act in itself; the reader never expects it.

    • kimtett November 25, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

      I agree with your comment on the lack of communication between the doctor and the parents in “The Bath.” I was always frustrated with the interactions between the doctor and the parents because they were always so surface level and didn’t really answer any questions or make any progress.

      I also like your consideration of time in “Tell the Women We’re Going.” I didn’t really think much about the age of the main characters until you mentioned it. I agree that they do not act like most 22 year olds. I am almost 22 years old and I couldn’t imagine my life going the way theirs is.

      • sarahpouls November 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

        Wow! I didn’t even realize the characters were only 22! I definitely agree that the men seem much older (which is probably why I completely missed their age). Now knowing this, their sudden behavior towards the end of the story seems a bit more…logical. These two men have gone through high school, getting a job, joining the national guard, getting married, having kids, and creating weekly outings (including bowling nights and barbecues). I think it’s possible that the men are suddenly feeling trapped in a routine at 22-years-old and their behavior with the women at the end of the story is a way to act impulsively and break the cycle of their monotonous lives.

  2. kimtett November 25, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    “The Bath” failed attempts to communicate and their consequences:

    Page 48- “The birthday boy did not cry. But neither did he wish to talk anymore. He would not answer when the other boy asked what it felt like to be hit by a car. The birthday boy got up and turned back for home, at which time the other boy waved and headed off for school.”

    This is a failed attempt to communicate on both boys’ parts. Just above this line, the narration reads, “the other boy stood holding the potato chips. He was wondering if he should finish the rest or continue on to school.” Neither boy knew how to communicate about the accident. One would think the typical interaction here would be that the birthday would cry and/or yell about how much it hurt or how scary it was, and the other boy would ask if he is okay or if he needs help. Instead, the boys seem completely disconnected about the accident. Perhaps if the birthday boy had told his friend right away that he was hurt, the story would have taken a different path.

    Page 48-9: “The birthday boy told his mother what had happened. They sat together on the sofa. She held his hands in her lap. This is what she was doing when the boy pulled his hands away and lay down on his back.”

    The first line seems as though the boy and the mother are communicating. However, it seems as though the mother did not communicate back with the boy. Instead she just held his hands, and they were sitting in silence when he lied down. This is a failure at communication because perhaps if the mother had asked the right questions, her son would not have fainted. I know in this situation, my mother would be asking me endless question after question, or she would be too busy driving me to the hospital to ask questions. Never would my mother sit with me in silence after I got hit by a car.

    “Tell the Women We’re Going”: Odd things about the story (characterization, use of time, point of view)

    One aspect of the story that was seemingly odd to me is that right away when readers are introduced to Jerry and Bill, we learn that they share everything together, including women, jobs, clothes, and a car. Maybe it’s just because of who I am, but this ability to share everything together seems unhealthy to me. I do not think I would want to share this much of my life with the same person. It seems as though it would create unnecessary drama. However, I think it would have made more sense in the story if Jerry and Bill had murdered the girls together- it would just be another creepy thing they share. However, Jerry killed the girls while Bill sat on the sideline. It is interesting (and odd) that they share everything together, and then not the murder.

    It is also interesting that the story is told as though were are following Bill around and getting his actions, but Jerry seems to be the more complicated man of the two and Bill’s focus seems to be on Jerry for most of the story. We get the background on Jerry’s life and family, and then we get two specific instances on page 59 where Bill focuses on Jerry. The narration reads, “Bill looked at Jerry and thought how much older Jerry looked, a lot older than twenty-two” and “Bill was thinking how Jerry was getting to be deep, the way he stared all the time and hardly did any talking at all.” Both sentences start off like they are going to be about Bill, but the focus shifts to what Bill thinks about Jerry. I wonder how this story would have been if it were told from Jerry’s point of view, and I wonder why Carver chose to shift the focus the way he did.

    “After the Denim”: Relief for their bad luck? Is it enough?

    I feel sorry for the Packers’ throughout the whole story. My sympathies always go out to the elderly, especially this couple. However, there is relief for the couple, but I do not believe it is enough. The love between this elderly couple acts as a sort of relief. Aside from the bickering and the obvious health issue, the two seem to have a pretty happy marriage, and I get the sense that the couple is still in love, which stands out from a lot of Carver’s stories. There are many subtle exchanges that make me believe this (as well as the obvious- the husband’s reaction to Edith’s illness). One subtle exchange that shows me the couple is still in love is when Edith says to her husband, “You stick to me…you’ll feel lucky” (68) and when the narration reads, “James taking Edith’s arm as they entered the corridor” (69). Although this couple is aging and obviously experience health concerns, they still find subtle ways to show each other that they love one another. However, to me, this just doesn’t seem to be enough. It doesn’t take away the obvious pain from the husband’s heart, and it doesn’t take away the illness. The way Edith says, “I’m spotting again” (74) shows that this has been an issue for quite some time, and no matter how hard the couple tries to distract themselves with bingo, needlepoint, or their love, the illness will only get worse. Despite their love for one another, I feel just as sorry (if not more) for the couple at the end of the story than I do at the beginning.

    “So Much Water so Close to Home”: How can you explain the ending?

    I have re-read this ending multiple times, and I still do not understand it. While I understand that the main character sees all men as potential monsters, I do not understand the ending. One explanation that I can’t seem to shake from my head is that the wife is not right in the head. Perhaps it is her constant paranoia that makes her act this way, or the fact that she is in an abusive relationship, but I think she is not all mentally put together. One line that leads me to this conclusion is “Then I call up to get a chair at the hairdresser’s” (84). It seems a little odd to me that right after she leaves the ring for her husband and reads about the body in the newspaper that she decides to go to the hairdresser. And then at the hairdresser, she casually talks about how she’s going to a funeral for a murder victim. Next, after she writes the letter to her son, she seems to have a long internal deliberation over whether the word “backyard” is two words or one. Considering the situation the wife is in, it is interesting that she devotes time to such a little task. The last instance that makes me believe the wife is not right in the head is when she says, “they have friends, these killers. You can’t tell” (87). This line made me feel really uncomfortable, and it made me realize I do not understand this character at all.

    “The Third Thing That Killed my Father Off”: Jack as the narrator of the story, why is he telling it, what affect does it have on him?

    I think Jack sees his father’s life as a possible reflection of what Jack’s life will turn out to be. Jack is innocent and naïve, and he still has a lot to learn. He is still young, so I think he is afraid his life will turn out just like his father’s. At the end of the story, Jack asks himself, “Is that what happens when a friend dies? Bad luck for the pals he left behind?” (103). This would have been a fitting last sentence to the story, but Jack adds on, “But as I said, Pearl Harbor and having to move back to his dad’s place didn’t do my dad one bit of good, either.” It seems as though he sees his dad’s life as his future life, but he is hoping it doesn’t turn out that way.

    • chrissykunkel November 25, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

      I completely agree with you about “The Bath.” To me, the most interesting and confusing form of failed communication was the interaction between Scotty and his friend as they were walking to school. In most instances, it is safe to assume a friend would be more concerned about the wellbeing of their friend who “was promptly knocked down by a car…fell on his side, his head in the gutter, his legs in the road moving as if he were climbing a wall” (48). Obviously, both boys are at fault here—the friend in his unconcerned actions and Scotty in his silence. I too am curious about whether the story would have taken a different path if Scotty had let the boy know how he was feeling, or answered when “the other boy asked what it felt like to be hit by a car.”

      • chrissykunkel November 25, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

        I am also confused by the wife’s actions at the end of “So Much Water So Close To Home.” Yes, she clearly is consumed by her paranoia and irrational fear of men, which makes her reaction to her husband’s advances all the more unexpected. The only reason I could think of was perhaps that by “finishing the buttons[on her blouse] herself” she thought she was in control of her own decisions and body, rather than just submitting to her husband. But, I am not sure if this is right.

        • Kelly Daniels November 26, 2012 at 10:34 am #

          Is it “irrational”? The statistics on how many women are in one way sexually abused are shocking. Even her husband is terribly insensitive.

    • Nicole P November 25, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

      I agree that the ending in “So Much Water Close to Home” is confusing, I had to reread it a few times, especially to answer this question. However I feel like the answer lies on page 87 when the narrator says a young boy was arrested for the crime. This makes Stuart innocent, which makes it all right for the woman to be in love with him again and accept him back into her life. What also confused me is the fact that she thinks something is wrong with her son but she does not even check. What else could this mean besides the fact that she is ready to love her husband again, and put her trust in him?

      • Rachel Park November 26, 2012 at 11:06 am #

        I would have to disagree that the woman is fine with her husband–I don’t think that she is ready to put her trust in him. As soon as she hears that they boy has been arrested, she comments that killers have friends. I think she is thinking of her husband when she says that. I also think that the wife’s concern about her son comes from the fact that she doesn’t trust her husband to be alone with Dean. She worries that he will do something to the child, and so she does whatever she can to appease Stuart and protect herself and her child.

  3. Rob Moore November 25, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    In “The Bath”, I also believe that the interaction between the parents the doctor can represent an interpretation of how poor communication affects a relationship. The doctor continues to ensure the parents that the child is not in a coma and is simply sleeping. This leads the father to be in denial and truly believes that the child is fine. The father then tries to convince the mother that the child is fine when she knows that her son is not sleeping, but actually is in a coma. The doctor continues to feed false information to the parents, which continues to push the ties between the parents farther apart. The father stays under the impression that the child will be okay, but the mother continues to have bleak thoughts on the health of her son. This begins to break down the communication between the two, and makes it difficult for the two to stay connected with one another when it comes to the status of their son. The two have completely different understandings on how to see things, which forces the two to want to approach the situation in their own ways. The poor communication between the doctor and the parents directly resulted in poor communication between the parents.

    Jack in “The Third Thing that Killed My Father Off” is the right person for the narration simply because he has no direct relationship with Dummy. Jack is only given an impression of Dummy through the interactions his father has with Dummy. It is in this way Jack has no preferences in who is right and wrong or how the story actually happened. He simply tells it for how he sees it. The story probably makes Jack realize that relationships are not always as picture perfect as one might interpret it to be. He realizes that people tend to be immoral to their significant partner, which forces certain emotions to emerge from such poor treatment. He knows that Dummy has a mental handicap of some kind, but Jack realizes that this would never be a reason for Dummy to kill not only his wife but himself as well. It would only take an emotional disparity for someone to commit such radical acts of violence. The fish were the only thing that kept Dummy happy for as long as he was, but when the fish were gone he had nothing left to hold on to. Dummy probably felt that no one cared anymore. Jack is the only one that can tell the story because he is still too young to understand the emotions behind a relationship. jack has yet to enter that stage of his life and can only interpret a relationship based off how others experience it.

    • Nicole P November 25, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

      I agree with you about Jack’s position as a narrator in “The Third Thing That Did My Father In.” He is the only one withut a relationship with Dummy so that makes hime a good objective narrator. However, since Jack is younger than everyone in the story, a lot of his information could have come from other people. Just the phrasing of the title and the idea that there were three things that “did his father in” sounds like something an older person would say. Now I do not think we know his age, but how else did he hear about Dummy’s wife and the way he was treated at work if not through other people?

      • chrissykunkel November 25, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

        I agree with Nicole and Rob. To tell this story through the eyes of Dummy, Jack’s Father, Dummy’s wife, or anyone else would take away the innocence and objective view of the events happening. Though Jack acknowledges that Dummy’s actions with the fish are very confusing and strange, he is not quick to pass judgment. Clearly this experience was very significant in his life. Perhaps it taught him a lesson about his own mortality and/or future.

        • kimtett November 26, 2012 at 8:58 am #

          I also agree with Nicole and Rob. I was struggling a little with this question. After reading a few of these responses, I understand the character of Jack as a narrator. Jack is innocent and naive, and it would be a completely different story if it were told through the father’s or Dummy’s eyes.

          • Kelly Daniels November 26, 2012 at 10:37 am #

            He’s also trying hard to figure out what went wrong with his father’s life, and by association, his own childhood. We struggle to make sense of things and sometimes things are just senseless.

  4. Nicole P November 25, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

    Others have commented about he lack of communication between the parents and the doctor and the two little boys in Carver’s story “The Bath.” Another intersting miscommunication in the story occurs when the boy’s mother tries to find the elevator, another couple stands up and beings asking questions about their own son. This miscommunication is different in nature from the lack of information given by the doctor and by the birthday boy earlier in the story. Maybe it is nothing close, but it just really stuck out at me in the story. It shows the impact of a family member being in the hospital. This woman is so worried that she asks someone who probably does not even look like a nurse or a doctor if she knows anything about her son. It sheds light on the fact that the main characters of this story are not the only ones left in the dark about the true severity of their son’s condition.

    • kimtett November 26, 2012 at 9:02 am #

      This is also a really interesting failure at communication. It also reminded me from a scene in a horror movie. These parents are just so devastated by the accidents that they become miserable communicators. I like your point that this scene sheds light on the fact that everyone is bad at communication, not just the main characters. It gets me wondering if people in real life are really this bad at communicating and maybe we are just the lucky ones because we’re English majors?

      • Rachel Park November 26, 2012 at 11:10 am #

        I wonder how good at communicating the family was even before the accident. The fact that the mother is telling all of these details about her son to a complete stranger seems a little odd to me. And it is a small point, but the son’s first attempt at communication was to try to trick his friend. Certainly the accident turns them into even worse communicators, but I wonder how good the family was at communicating to begin with.

  5. chrissykunkel November 25, 2012 at 11:23 pm #

    Apart from my above comment on the failed communication of the young boys in “The Bath,” I think the telephone plays a very important role in communicating in the story. There are a few interactions involving Scotty’s parents that take place via telephone—the first between the father and the cake baker, the second between the mother and an unknown caller (presumably either the baker again or the hospital). It’s possible that this is just my interpretation, as a 20 year old in 2012, but I read this as a comment on how reliant people are on phones for communication. The previously un-talkative baker had no problem expressing himself and demanding the father pay and collect the cake, because they were not face to face. On the other end, the father does not hesitate to hang up the phone and simply not completing the attempted communication. The ambiguity of the second phone call is Carver’s way of failing to fully communicate with the reader, which ends in confusion.

    “Tell the Women We’re Going” was a very unsettling read for me. I thought it was odd that the narrator, a third person who focused more on Bill’s thoughts than Jerry’s, seemed to be a misogynistic, male voice. This is evident in the way the two girls are portrayed. The narrator is very ambiguous as to whether or not the girls want Jerry and Bill’s attention—though it is obvious they are trying to ignore the men, the narrator makes it seem as if the girls are just being coy and flirty. For example, “The brunette glanced back. It seemed to Jerry she was looking at him in the right kind of way. But with a girl you could never be sure.” But, by the end of the story it is very clear that the girls are victims who were being stalked. The fact that they are always referred to as girls (who are on bikes) makes me wonder how old they are. The whole situation is very creepy and the narrator’s characterization of the girls is very one-sided and unreliable.

    “After the Denim” is a shockingly tender story amongst Carver’s collection of very troubling ones. However, Edith’s apparent sickness is disrupting the characters’ otherwise happy life together. The only source of relief I found was the obvious love and affection they felt for each other. It is clear Edith and James have a strong, yet playful, relationship. It is comforting that James is willing to take care of her, even if that means assuming feminine roles in their marriage. In contrast, she is a very strong and independent woman. This dynamic of their relationship (an almost swapping of typical male/female traits) makes it seem that the two will somehow work together to continue to fight Edith’s illness. But, in cases involving medical problems, love is not enough to provide relief for the pain and loss that is sure to come in the inevitable future. I think that this is why James is so perturbed by the younger couple, who seem to be happy, lucky and carefree, while also taking over their usual parking spot and Bingo table.

  6. Nicole P November 25, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    In “After the Denim” we see something that Carver has never showed us before in his other stories. We see an old couple, happily in love. The wife is experiencing some ongoing health problems which trouble the husband deeply. We have not seen this sort of sympathy yet in carver’s book of short stories. The relief for these characters is their deep bond and their persevering love. Another thing that stands out is the husband’s strong morals and beliefs. He seems like a man that stands for justice and on page 77 when the narrator exclaims for him “He’d tell them what was waiting for you after the deim and the earrings, after touching each other and cheating at games.” The husband feels cheated in this situation, not only because the young man did not pay for one of his bingo cards, but because he is young and does not yet understand life as the old man does. The young man may not stay very long with the girl he is with, he might break her heart and move onto someone else. The husband in the story has been with his wife for a long time and we can see he cares for her. His love is not enough, he still feels cheated, he still feels like he and his wife do not deserve to suffer.

    “Tell the Women We’re Going,” displays a very close friendship between two men. These two friends have shared so many things throughout their lives. However, we can see that the narrator is partial to Bill, who follows every command of Jerry’s. He does try to stop him, especially while Jerry is pursuing the girls. However, it seems as though not even God can stop Jerry’s antics; there is even a sign in the cliffs before they reach the top that says “Jesus Loves You” I took it as a warning sign to both of them. However, they ignore it and continue on their path of evil.

    • sarahpouls November 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

      I think it is very interesting how Carver includes a religious aspect in this story; if I remember correctly, this is the only one that includes any mention of God or Jesus. I definitely agree with Nicole that these signs serve as a warning, as a reminder that what they are about to do will destroy what seems to be their happy life with friends and family. It amazes me that these men would throw this all away, even with warning signs from what seems to be a higher power.

  7. Rachel Park November 26, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Most of the attempts at communication seem to fail in “The Bath”–all of the main characters have troubles communicating. The birthday boy is initially trying to trick his companion into telling him what his present is, and immediately afterward he is hit by a car. The boy then becomes even more uncommunicative, refusing to answer his companion’s questions, and even refusing to cry. The boy does go home and tell his mother what happened, but instead of talking about it, they both just sit on the couch until the boy slips into his coma-like state, where he remains for the rest of the story.
    The mother is also unable to communicate. She doesn’t communicate well with the baker, she doesn’t communicate with her son after he is hit by a car, and she has trouble communicating with her husband and the doctor. She becomes increasingly worried and exhausted, and won’t take the father’s advice, so by the end of the story she’s almost delirious, completely caught up in her own world.
    The man isn’t able to communicate either. The first indication of this is that for comfort, he goes home to take a bath instead of lending and receiving support from his wife. When he returns he suggests that his wife go home and take a rest, but she’s not really listening to his suggestion and he’s not really listening to her protests. Instead of comforting her, he just keeps insisting that she go home and rest. The father and mother both spend most of their time sitting by the boys’ bed thinking their own thoughts, rather than communicating with each other.
    The doctor, too, is not able to communicate well. He keeps insisting that the boy is not in a coma, but he doesn’t really reply to any questions that the family has. He orders scans and tests without informing the family, and he uses the woman’s name oddly. Names throughout this piece are used oddly–the woman never really acknowledges that her name is Ann, the boy’s name is not revealed until the end, and no one else is named. That depersonalizes the entire story and cements the barrier that seems to be hindering communication.

    The use of time in “Tell the Women We’re Going” seems important and different from the other stories. Instead of occurring in a small slice of time, this story begins with the back story for the two men. Throughout the story, Bill keeps checking his watch. The story’s point of view is primarily tied to Bill, though he is more of a spectator. Jerry is the one who leads on their violent escapade, and he is ultimately the one who uses the rock on both girls, so telling the story from Bill’s perspective is an interesting choice.

    The main character’s in “After the Denim” certainly are unlucky. And seeing the couple in denim is some kind of reflection of what Edith and James’s life used to be like, back when they were lucky. At the end of the day, however, they both still have each other, and though times are tough, I get the feeling that they will stand by one another and maybe even be stronger for it.

    The woman in “So Much Water So Close To Home” ends up terrified of her husband. She seems convinced that he had something to do with killing that girl. She is scared, not only for herself, but also for her child, which is why I think she is willing to submit to her husbands’s advances at the end of the story. She is afraid to reject her husband, and she thinks that by going along with his wishes she’ll be protected. However, she doesn’t want Dean to be a part of this exchange–she submits not only to protect herself, but also to make herself the only object of her husband’s violence, removing Dean from the equation altogether.

    Making Jack the narrator in “The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off” is certainly an interesting choice because the story really isn’t about him at all. I think that maybe Jack sees a parallel between Dummy’s life and his father’s life. It seems like they both had marriage troubles and that both the men’s wives were not good people. Maybe Jack’s father even killed himself like Dummy did. Either way, I think Jack is trying to come to terms with his father’s death by telling stories about him and the people he was close to.

    • sarahpouls November 26, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

      I definitely agree with Rachel’s statements about all of the miscommunication in “The Bath.” I think, though, that it is also important to pay attention to why the parents have such different reactions. Rachel mentions that the father goes home to take a bath for comfort instead of reaching out to his wife and going through this tough time together. However, the story says that “fear made him want a bath” (49). I think this says a lot about how tragedies affect everyone in a different manner and causes them to react very strangely at times. The father definitely could have (and should have) tried to communicate what was going on with his wife and the doctor. Instead, his coping method was to remove himself from the situation because he was afraid of it.

  8. Liz Kuster November 26, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    As I started the story “The Bath”, I realized that I had read it before. This helped me understand it better the second time through. I agree that this story is about a lack of communication. The communication barriers that seemed most prominent to me, were between the doctors and the parents, and between the woman and the man. The parents don’t understand what is happening to their son and the doctors are giving them very little information. At one point they are going to take the boy to do a “scan”. Confused the woman says, “A scan?”, as if saying, tell me what this is. The doctor’s response? “It’s nothing”. This does not comfort either the man or the woman which leads them to feel high anxiety. Perhaps they could relieve some of this anxiety if they spoke to one another, but instead of talking to each other, they talk to themselves. Instead of using each other as outlets, they keep all their feelings and confusion locked up inside.

  9. Yasmine Nejdawi November 26, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    In “The Bath,” one of the more interesting failed attempts at communication occurs at the end of the story, when the mother encounters another family awaiting news of their son on her way out of the hospital. As was mentioned in above comments, this interaction struck me not only because the mother is so willing to tell her story to complete strangers, but because the strangers do not appear to respond to the communication. She informs them of her situation (her son was hit by a car), goes on to include small details of what she might do when she gets home (take a bath) and then concludes the interaction with her name, something that would normally go at the beginning of an exchange such as this one. In response to the small narrative the mother has just told them, the father proclaims, “Our Nelson” (Page 56). There is no acknowledgement that the mother has just shared personal information with these people, and the only response does not address her situation. It is almost as if by uttering these two words, “Our Nelson,” the father is in a sense sharing his own story with the mother. In his present state he is unable to communicate fully the details of the situation, simply express a general statement that creates a subtle narrative. From these two words, the mother is able to gather that the family as a son who is injured or sick, likely in critical condition, and are awaiting information as to his state. While this attempt at communication fails by general standards, it does not completely fail in the context of the story. It is as if those suffering from grief have a different language, a different way of communicating, that can be understood by those suffering similarly.

    I was surprised by the violence in “Tell the Women We’re Going,” and was particularly disturbed by the ending. The characterization of the friendship between Bill and Jerry was interesting, and I thought at first that it was going to develop into a homosexual relationship. The turn of events when the two met the girls riding their bikes surprised me, as that was not the direction I had thought the story would take.

    The characters in “In the Denim” appear to be happily married despite their problems, something that seems rather rare in Carver’s stories. Though the woman, Edith, is facing serious medical problems, her husband does not abandon her but rather expresses his love all the more. There is an interesting contrast between the old and young couple, the man wearing denim and his wife who took the Packer’s seats at Bingo, that calls for a closer examination of the characters. Though the Packers are facing these problems, I think the husband is happy that he and his wife aren’t the young couple. This is a sense of relief in the story, I believe.

    In “So Much Water So Close to Home,” the wife acts as she does at the end of the story only after she learns they caught the boy who murdered the girl. I think she believes her husband might have had something to do with it, previously, or the fact that they caught the perp affirms her own safety in some way.

    In “The Third Thing that Killed My Father Off,” I think it is necessary to have the son tell the story. Having the father tell the story would create a rather different effect than having the perspective of an observer. The observations the son makes about his father, Dummy, Dummy’s wife and other characters in the story add significantly to the overall narrative. Having the father tell this story would place the reader almost too close, considering the kind of man the father is. We almost learn more about him from his son.

  10. sarahpouls November 28, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    The story of “The Bath” and its abundance of miscommunication can easily be traced by analyzing each of the characters’ interactions. What I would like to focus on is the interaction between the parents and the doctor. I found it incredibly strange that the doctor seemed to be unwilling to give the parents any type of information about their son’s well-being EXCEPT for saying that he isn’t in a coma…which isn’t true. If this were to happen today, there would have been some type of outburst from the parents wanting to know what is wrong with their son. In this case, the parents just accept the doctor’s responses and don’t fight to learn what is wrong with their son as well as what the doctor is doing to him. Today, doctors need permission from the parents to perform scans, tests, etc. and in this story, the doctor seems to be doing whatever he pleases. It’s almost as if each of these characters are in their own little world, completely cut off from reality and their own emotions.

    In “After the Denim,” I do not think that there is much relief for the characters’ bad luck. The two main characters seem to really care about each other, which is something we don’t see much of in these Carver stories. They have lived their lives together and understand what it takes to make a relationship work and be there for the one they care about, even when one is going through medical problems. The man sees the younger couple and is frustrated with them. He sees the guy in denim as someone who is taking love for granted. He’s cheating at bingo and who’s to say what else he would cheat on? The man knows not to take his time with the person he loves for granted, and doesn’t understand how the young couple doesn’t see this. Him and his wife don’t win at bingo, and they go home to deal with her medical problem of “spotting.” I don’t think there was one point in this story where I didn’t sympathize with these two characters.

    “So Much Water So Close to Home” has a very peculiar ending where the wife does what we expect her not to do: sleep with her husband after she finds out that he withheld information about a murder for a few days. Although I personally do not agree with her decision of having sex to solve a problem, I believe she did this to return to a sense of normalcy within her household. In the end, the husband didn’t kill anyone and he’s still her husband as well as the father of her son. I don’t think she wanted to destroy her life and therefore gave in to having sex as a way to say that they could move past this.

    “The Third Thing that Killed My Father Off” really reminded me of the reoccurring theme of people having something to say but aren’t really sure how to say it. Obviously Dummy cannot tell his own story since he passed away, but Jack witnessed everything from an outside perspective. He wasn’t friends with Dummy; his father was. Jack just tagged along for the ride. But by doing this, he saw and experienced things that he didn’t understand. Jack could tell that there was something important to take away from this story, although he’s not quite sure what that is. I think that by telling this story, Jack was trying to come to an understanding of everything he saw.

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