Raymond Carver Poetry
Perspectives on the Past in Carver’s “Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-second Year” and Ruth Fainlight’s “Friends’ Photos”
‘Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year’ and ‘Friends’ Photos’ both reminisce and compare the past with the memory and newfound perspective that their speakers have gained from the present with photographs as a medium. However, while ‘Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year’ looks upon the memory of his father in a distant, straightforward and somewhat bleak manner, ‘Friends’ Photos’ glorifies and views the memory of the speaker and her friends in a nostalgic and romanticized way. The new ideas on the past, derived from their present understanding, is contrasted in disapproval and nostalgia, where ‘Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year’ reveals the flatness of what is portrayed and ‘Friends’ Photos’ misses and laments the beauty of a youthfulness that was not appreciated before.
Both poems display a stark difference on the past and its reflection in the present. The past that is depicted through through the photographs looks to be ideal, where the father enjoys to “pose bluff and hearty”, and the speaker’s friends “looked like goddesses and gods.” However, both poems cast their youth in a different light through the perspective of the present, where the last stanza abruptly reveals the darker mood of the speaker viewing the photographs, where the father’s “eyes give him away” regarding the false image he is revealed to be presenting, and how the speaker “could hardly bear to look at” the photographs containing her happier past in her youth. This shift back to the present, where the poems use a first person perspective as compared to ‘he’ in ‘Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year’ and ‘we’ in ‘Friends’ Photos’. This difference that creates a different mood in the last stanza highlights the contrast between the past that is first portrayed and the reflection in the present.
However, while ‘Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year’ notably has a distant, straightforward view on the father’s past, ‘Friends’ Photos’ glorifies and romanticizes the speaker’s past. ‘Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year’ simply narrates the situation as it is, with the current date of “October” as the poem begins as the narrator “study my father’s embarrassed young man’s face”. However, ‘Friends’ Photos’ begin immediately with the speaker’s reminiscence of the speaker and her friends “looking like goddesses and gods”, not only diving straight into the past without framing the past in the perspective of the present but also using mythological imagery in showing the idolization and the glory of their youth. This exaggerated way ‘Friends’ Photos’ use is prevalent in most of the poem, where not only are their swims are compared to “dolphins surging out of the ocean”, the mythological imagery is evoked where youth is compared to “ichor” or their relationships with “Adam and God”. This idea that the speaker and her friends in their youths were not only unrealistically fantastic but also likened to god is contrasted to ‘Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year’, where its speaker does not use similes, and describes the content of the photograph as it is, such as when the father “leans against the front fender of a 1934 Ford”. This straightforward way delivers the impression of the memory’s dullness in the present, no matter how the father wanted the past to be seen.
‘Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year’ shows a distant perspective upon the past, where the speaker narrates on memory of his father based on the photography, referring to his father separately from himself using ‘he’ and ‘I’, though ‘Friends’ Photos’ delivers an intimate narrative of not only the speaker’s friends but also the speaker herself, using ‘we’ throughout the most of the poem. Furthermore, the speaker of ‘Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year’ appears to show, despite the speaker’s love for his father, disappointment in the father’s attempt to look much “bolder” than he was, where it is revealed neither father nor son can “hold my liquor” or know “the places to fish”. Such a newly revealed perspective highlights the drabness of the past that is seen in the present perspective, though the father was trying to present himself otherwise as he “wanted to be bold”. This is unlike how the friends in ‘Friends’ Photos’ is stated to never have “noticed when we were first together” the magnificence of their youth, where instead the position is reversed in which the present perspective allows the speaker to notice how amazing their youth was, though they, in the past, was unaware of it.
The significance of the new perspective along with how intimate the speaker is is further highlighted through the introduction of the poem, where in ‘Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year’, the poem begins with the present date and place of the speaker, which is “October” in the “dank, unfamiliar kitchen.” Present tense is used when describing the content of the photo, constantly showing how present the current situation is, compared to the past. On the other hand, ‘Friends’ Photos’, which begin immediately with the past, uses past tense, highlighting the youth that is already over but with a more personal view, where it appears the speaker is recalling the events directly from her mind. There is a disparity in the distant the speaker assumes, along with the different feelings felt from the new perspective gained upon the past.
While both poems speak of the past based on the reveal of the new perspective of the present, they greatly differ on how they view the past, as well as how removed they are from it and the resulting emotions, where ‘Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year’, is plain and distant, while criticizing of the father’s false image he had tried to portray, and ‘Friends’ Photos’, which is glorified and exaggerated, while lamenting the ignorance they had in their youth of how precious their time was.