What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
The Similarities Between What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Cathedral
Raymond Carver uses a literary style that enriches the portrayal of the themes of each short story he writes. Yet his style of work often gets criticized which demonstrates a common crucial problem; the misinterpretation of the message his theory attempts to portray to this audience (Lehman, 2006). This misinterpretation stems from Carver’ minimalist writing technique that is simple yet effective in his work. He uses this technique to provide the reader with little information, along with a preview of the desperate characters tackling their unstable relationships and profound emotions. As a result, this encourages the reader to search for the meaning behind the story. Carver creates this style where a character’s silence is as significant as the gaps crowded with words (Oliveira, 2017). There are major similarities that outweigh the differences between the two short stories. These similarities include both the use of isolation in the two stories and the failure of language between the stories. Although Carver’s writing style demonstrators a rather interesting approach, the themes enhance his work towards his minimalist approach.
First, isolation is commonly found in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, when relationships between the characters are menaced by the use of alcohol. The couple isolates themselves from how they feel and do not allow themselves to feel the stress of their pasts. This is part of the reason why Carver introduced “gin” in the story, which is interpreted as alcohol. Having an alcohol beverage often is used as a social lubricant to allow emotions to quickly emerge and overcome their inhibition. Evidently shown they need to “feel” each other in order to confirm they are really in love. The couple also finds it difficult to express this love in words, specifically when they reached the end of the alcohol bottle. The alcohol runs out, just as the thoughts and on-going conversation follow. At this point, everyone seems to be isolated in his or her own world. This is shown when everyone stops speaking to one another. The character Nick comments, “I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart” (Carver, “WWTA” 257). This is important because this quote shows the element of irony at the end of the story. It ends by hearing the heart beating, incapable of expressing words to the people they love, yet still alive and truly in love with each other.
In addition to alcohol, smoking is used as a device that encourages isolation between the narrator and Robert, the “blind man” in Cathedral. The narrator is the most isolated character He hides his loneliness behind a shield of drugs and alcohol. Isolation is also present when the narrator feels that his wife is not including nor bringing his name up in conversations. The narrator points out, “ I waited in vain to hear my name on my wife’s sweet lips [… ] But I heard nothing of that sort more talk of Robert” (Carver, Cathedral 54). Consequently, the narrator feels no connection at the beginning towards Roger, which also creates some jealousy. The narrator becomes attached to Robert when cannabis is introduced. This is shown when he begins to appreciate the company of Robert, the narrator starts to realize how isolated he is when he points out, “every night I smoked dope and stayed up as long as I could before I fell asleep. My wife and I hardly ever went to bed at the same time” (Carver, Cathedral 222). The narrator’s relationship with the “blind man” grew and allowed the narrator to face his identity and his loneliness.
Isolation continuously emerges with the theme of the failure of language In What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, the characters continuously try to define what the term love is. None of the characters are able to pin the idea down and end up failing. The use of physical intimacy is also added to replace the weak exchange of expressive language. The character Nick displays his love for Laura, his wife, rather than talking. Nick comments “I took Laura’s hand and raised it to my lips” (Carver, “WWTA” 246). Although the couple is still in their ‘honeymoon phase’ (247), Nick and Laura’s nonverbal gestures show a weak performance of language throughout the story. On the other hand, Mel is the character that fails the most with communicating with others. Mel’s inability to communicate is proven when he gets irritated when he is unable to pronounce properly. Mel argues ‘Vassals, vessels […] what the fuck’s the difference? You knew what I meant anyway […] So I’m not educated’ (Carver, “WWTA” 149). Mel is also unable to communicate even when he shouts or gets frustrated proves that he’s not capable of cooperating with others. He is emotionally isolated since he is unable to connect to the sort of affection Nick and Laura share with each other.
In Cathedral, with the use of physical intimacy in place of words, language also fails. The narrator when asked by the blind man, what a cathedral looks like, the narrator responds, “I reached for my glass, but it was empty. I tried to remember what I could remember” (Carver, Cathedral 94). This symbolizes the end of the alcohol in Cathedral. The narrator essentially has a hard time to remember expressing without sipping his liquor. Essentially the narrator fails with outlining the cathedral to him verbally, instead Robert and the narrator touch hands in order to draw and describe what a cathedral looks like. The narrator would have never had such bravery with getting close with Robert if he were not intoxicated.
Carver uses similar techniques in both short stories to create his message to the audience. His effective use of minimalism is crucial for the audience to understand that there is more to the story than meets the eyes. The combined display of irony and symbolism between the stories enriches the hidden meaning even more. Although critics underestimated his work, Carver’s use of minimalism is proven to still get his point through. The reader is led to understand this when comparing the two stories. The stories denote the failure of language and the idea of isolation within one’s self. The mysterious power of alcohol also appears as a social lubricant within Carver’s complicated characters. Furthermore intoxications menaces society and social interactions in today’s era, its unfortunate people rely on a substance to encourage social interactions in our daily lives. This builds fake connections with people and destroys true identities. These themes justify Carver’s astonishing literature style of minimalism and allow the approach of Carver’s underlying theory to prosper within both stories.
Sexism and Alcohol in Raymond Carver’s Short Stories
Everyone thinks they know what the word “love” actually means but does he or she? In “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” Raymond Carver tells a story of four people’s different descriptions of love and how their drinking affects their feelings about love. Raymond Carver drank a lot, was married twice, and had two kids. Some may believe he was an alcoholic considering he had a hard time keeping it together and falling into the trap of drinking. Though he gave up drinking, Carver picked up another habit of smoking and then got lung cancer and died at age fifty. Carver lived a life with two different “loves” and also a history of drinking that had an effect on him.
Mel, Terri, Laura and Nick all have different thoughts and feelings about love but yet they begin to drink and get distracted and never get to their point. Carver shows us two things: people think of love differently and drinking can change beliefs real quick. After sitting around, hanging out, and drinking Mel, Terri, Laura and Nick begin to talk. They begin to talk about love. Each of them gives their own experiences and their own definitions of love. The cups continue to get refilled and they begin to get drunk. The more drinks they drink, the more distracted they become throughout the night. The story ends with no point to love exactly.
Carver begins with Terri’s definition and experience of her first love, Ed. Carver writes, “Terri said the man she lived with before Mel loved her so much he tried to kill her” (349). Although we may disagree with this idea of “love,” Carver shows us that there are people in the world who have different viewpoints. However, the symbolism of sexism is shown here with Terri’s description. Carver expresses Terri’s experience of love through a brutal treatment including beatings, threats to kill her, and mental abuse. Carver writes that Terri said, “Okay. But he loved me. In his own way maybe, but he loved me. There was love there, Mel. Don’t say there wasn’t” (349). Carver is indicating that when women think they have fallen in love, they try their hardest to make it love. However, in some cases the love is not there or the person does not know how to show it.
In contrast to Terri’s description of love, her husband Mel has an opposing idea of love. Mel starts giving his input and disagreeing with Terri as she is speaking of her experience. Carver writes Mel quoting, “I just wouldn’t call Ed’s behavior love. That’s all I’m saying, honey” (349). Carver starts to give a softer side to the story with Mel having a romantic side. Mel tells a story of working one night; he is a cardiologist. Mel expresses the love of an old couple who got in a fatal car accident leaving the wife with a fifty fifty chance to live. Carver quotes Mel, “ He said that was what was making him feel so bad. Can you imagine? I’m telling you, the man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his goddamn head and see his goddamn wife” (355). Carver shows Mel shocked during this story. Mel could not believe that the old man was heart broken due to the fact that he could not look at his wife. Carver shows us this piece of symbolism because Mel talks about nobody knowing love and understand love but yet insists this old couple knows the real meaning. With this story, Carver makes the character Mel believe he witnessed true love. But does Mel know true love? Carver also informs us of Mel’s former marriage with Majorie and how they despise each other now. Carver writes Mel saying “If I’m not praying she’ll get married again, I’m praying she’ll get stung to death by a swarm of fucking bees” (356). Carver did not inform us what happened to the love between Majorie and Mel, however we do know that something must of happened. Carver also quotes Mel saying, “She’s vicious” (356). This leads us to believe she drove Mel crazy. Carver shows us that Mel had a variety of different oppositions of love leading us to believe that some of these crazy things might have been some experiences in Carver’s life.
All this talk about love changes throughout the story when Carver integrates alcohol with the characters. From the very beginning Carver gave the characters some gin and tonic water to drink during small talk. Why? Because Carver was an alcoholic we see this as a symbol. Carver stopped drinking but always had a hard time staying away from the “intense thrive” of alcohol. Alcohol can mess up your judgment, memory, and many other things sometimes leading it to bad consequences. However, in this story Carver just has the characters talking, rambling, and disagreeing about love. The characters never actually reach a point, but why? Carver is showing us that alcohol affects the way you think and act. These characters continued to drink and ended up sounding dumb. At the end of the story Carver quotes the narrator, “I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went back” (356). The characters were drunk and were just sitting there thinking about the night that just went on. Not only did they get off topic a lot, but they also ended up silent not moving at the end. This symbolism of alcohol is definitely affected by Carver’s alcoholism because he believed at the end of his life that drinking leads to bad and awkward situations.
Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” shows not only how sexism can affect different opinions of love, but alcohol can do the same. Men and women can believe in different types of love and also act differently. Sometimes women and men can make love be between two people whether it is there or not. Other times love is there and is going strong, but that does not mean it can be lost. Also, alcohol can affect anyone, anything at any time and any place. Alcohol can change someone and their judgment real quick. Many people deny this, but some people realize it and make some changes in their life.
Raymond Carver’s Idea of Personal Views of Love
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
The dinner check comes and the man reaches for it, as he does a thought runs through his head. He is distracted so he only catches the last word, Love. He thinks about everyone he has loved and considers how love can be different. The idea of personal views of love is the main topic of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. In the story there are four main characters that make up two couples. The first couple is made up of cardiologist Mel McGinnis, and his wife Teresa, or Terri. The second couple is made up of Nick the narrator and Laura his wife of about a year. The story starts with them sitting around a table drinking gin and then they “somehow got on the subject of love.” There are then two stories of different love told. The story ends with them sitting there not moving, “even when the room went dark”. Raymond Carver is displaying how everyone will have a definition of love for their own.
Terri has her own view of how love can be defined. The characters are sitting drinking gin and they start talking about love. “Terri said the man she lived with before she lived with Mel loved her so much he tried to kill her.” Terri thinks that love can be expressed violently. She assumes that he loved her so much the only way he could think to express it is physically. Terri has her own definition for love.
Laura has a view of how love is defined by the individual. Mel and Terri had just finished the tale of Terri’s abusive ex-husband when Laura input her thoughts on love. “’Well Nick and I know what love is’, Laura said. ‘For us I mean,’ Laura said.” Laura thinks that every couple can have a different form of love. She said that she and Nick had their own love further expressing Carver’s idea that everyone has their own definition of love.
The third example of love being expressed differently is the story of the old couple. Mel has started telling the story of how the old couple had gotten in a severe accident. Mel told them that the old man was depressed not because of the accident, “but it was because he couldn’t see her through his eye-holes.” Mel goes on to say, “I’m telling you, the man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his head and see his wife.” In this instance the old man is so in love with his wife that if he doesn’t see her he might die. Some people might argue that no one could ever die from heartbreak, but that is further proof of everyone having a different view on love.
In the process of reading “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” the reader can see how Raymond Carver works to show different people can think about love differently. For example Terri thinks that love can be expressed violently, Laura directly acknowledges that everyone defines love differently, and the old man feels like love is worth dying for. Everyone in our lives will have a different view on love. In the earlier example of the man reaching for the check, he is defining his love as his actions. Another example would be someone who compliments his significant other all the time, he defines his love by what he says. I would say I am more like the former or these two. I try to define my love by the way I act more then by what I say.
Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Loneliness and Other Tragic Themes
Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is not pleasant to read. This uneasiness of this collection of stories can easily cause one to cringe and re-examine his or her choices in life in order to avoid those tragic narratives. I couldn’t help to characterize the tragedy found in many of Carver’s stories as a tragedy of loneliness and isolation, one that is also often dominated by alcoholism. In many of the stories, there was a pervasive atmosphere of individuals who were in close relationships with each other, but found only vast gaps and distances in those relationships. In others, people had absolutely no relationships or companions at all.
Loneliness is most often associated with a lack of meaningful, intimate relationships. Throughout Carver’s collection of stories, that traditional characterization does not necessarily reflect what all the characters were experiencing. Some were evidently living a solitary life, desperate for some type of companionship, while some were still engaged in certain relationships, but were equally desperate and helpless in trying to make sense out of them, in trying to believe, and in combating the loneliness and isolation infesting those very relationships. The man selling his furniture in “Why Don’t You Dance” is a typical victim of loneliness. The story hinted at the fact that at some point of time he used to have a woman in his life, an intimate companion of some sort, but she was no longer with him by the time of the yard sale, for reasons unknown. Little was said of her importance to the man, but his acknowledgement of the division of the bed into his side and her side suggests that the woman had a role in the man’s life (Carver 3). In her absence, the man’s life had changed dramatically in a mostly negative fashion, and his act of moving the furniture sets outside for a half-hearted yard sale was both disturbing and puzzling (Carver 4). Was he trying to procure a sum of money for more alcohol, or was he trying to overcome something so devastating that can only be achieved by disposing of everything that was physically attached to it? To me, the man’s act seems much more straightforward and practical. Perhaps he was just simply seeking companionship, and being a lonesome, isolated drunkard as he was, the best way to do so was to put up a ragtag yard sale and hope that people would stumble upon it. The most significant indication of his purpose of seeking companionship through the yard sale lies in his lack of efforts in bargaining the prices with the young couple who came across him. Twice he conceded to the couple’s proposed prices, which were considerably lower than what he initially suggested, and in the sale of the desk, he did not even bother naming a price (Carver 6, 7, 8). Apparently, the man did not wish for any tensions with the buyers in these lukewarm, run-of-the-mill transactions. It is possible that the sales themselves did not matter that much, and only served as means for the man to be temporarily free from his alcoholic loneliness and isolation. On the contrary, he only wished to gratify them, all the while trying to extend their presence on his yard by luring them into taking one or two drinks and dancing to his old records (Carver 8, 9, 10). He was desperate for human company, and he was able to procure it through selling his furniture at a heavily discounted rate and indulging his customers with alcohol and music. Similarly, the man in “Viewfinder” was also a person living alone in his house, although, with a cup of coffee in his hand instead of a whiskey bottle, he was surely more sober and composed than the one in “Why Don’t You Dance”. The first surprise that came from this character was his act of inviting the bizarre, handicapped photographer into his house for coffee. He treated this person with an air of hospitality that is normally not even accorded upon mannerly strangers, much less solicitors, and especially solicitors who have hooks instead of hands (Carver 11, 12). Although the man did explain to the reader, in first person narrative, that he only invited the stranger inside to see how the handicapped photographer would maneuver holding a cup of coffee, this gives the impression that the man’s curiosity was only a pretense for him to invite the stranger inside, because later on he implored the stranger to stay and take more pictures (Carver 11, 14). Arguably, what the man in “Viewfinder” actually sought was, once again, human company, and he procured it in a manner somewhat more dignified than the man in “Why Don’t You Dance Did”. He also seemed to pay little attention to the role money played in all this, a trait also shared by the character in “Why Don’t You Dance”.
In “Mr. Coffee and Mr. Fixit”, there is a different type of loneliness. Here we have a 65-year old lady kissing her boyfriend on the couch, and her son whose wife was having some type of an affair with a man called Ross (Carver 17, 18). Certainly, things seemed to be out of place, but no one was estranged, or isolated, or living in solitude. Everyone had someone. But even then, they were still lonely in their own relationships, and isolated from each other in a way. Although very little was mentioned of the narrator’s mother, who was a widow and former wife of a possibly alcoholic husband who never said goodnight, it was noted that she belonged to a singles club, and in spite of this, she was still struggling (Carver 17, 20). One can only conclude that this old lady, who had a boyfriend of some sort and was a singles club member, was suffering from the affliction of loneliness, something her son might have acknowledged and implied when he remarked that “even so, it was hard” (Carver 17). Myrna, the narrator’s wife, was previously engaged with a man named Ross (Carver 18). Although the narrator and Myrna were married to each other, they seemed to be drifting apart and isolated from one another, as evidenced by the alcohol abuse that both were suffering from (Carver 19). Thus it can be said that they were lonely in their own marriage, which might have been one of the main reasons why Myrna came to Ross. The third victim of loneliness in this story is no one else than the narrator himself. Perhaps more than anyone, he was well aware of the loneliness that infested his family, and this would have possibly made him the loneliest of the trio. He saw his mother’s struggle, witnessed his wife’s blatant infidelity, and accepted both. He wasn’t even aggressive towards Ross, which might indicate that he was willing to accept a third person in the marriage as long as Myrna stays with him. If he had pushed hard, Myrna might have left him, and then he would become even lonelier. Moreover, the narrator’s loneliness also emanated from his own daughter, whose hostility towards Ross was not meant to look out for her father, but rather for money. This too, the man was aware of (Carver 18). “I Could See The Smallest Things” presents a similar loneliness, in which the narrator – Nancy, was married to a presumably alcoholic Cliff. The narrator woke up to the sounds of her gate unlatching and went outside to investigate, where she came across her neighbor Sam and a conversation ensued (Carver 32, 33). It appears to me that whether her gate was unlatched or not was of little significance. There was a feeling that she wanted to go outside and away from the bed where Cliff was snoring for a moment, regardless of the gate. This proved correct when she headed back to the house and discovered that she had forgotten to latch the gates, but went back to sleep nevertheless (Carver 36). Given the late hour of the night, Nancy’s act of agreeing to follow Sam in her nightgown and robe and let him show her something was also curious, if not completely out of place. Nancy herself admitted the strangeness of that action (Carver 33). Admittedly, there was less explicit evidence of loneliness in this story, but there was still a sense that there was a gap in Nancy’s marriage to Cliff, that somehow she was isolated from her husband. It feels as if Nancy was unhappily confined to the marriage, and craved an outlet for companionship. Needless to say, Sam Lewton was not that outlet, but Nancy’s brief venture out into the night and her conversation with him were a testament to her appreciation of an opportunity to be talking to people while away from Cliff. In this case, like the man’s curiosity in “Viewfinder”, the unlatched gate was once again nothing more than just a pretense. However, although the constrained length, crypticity and limited background information of the story leave possibilities difficult to contemplate, Nancy’s behavior towards the end vaguely illustrates her insecurity and lack of resolve in confronting her loneliness in the household with Cliff, when she decided to quickly return to him, although even in bed, part of her mind still remained devoted to the outside world even (Carver 33, 34).
Leo Tolstoy once said in “Anna Karenina” that “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. The stories by Carver examined above all included the theme of family, and although the families (or what remained of the former family) in those stories owed their state of unhappiness to different root causes and circumstances, they all suffered from a common affliction: loneliness and isolation. Carver’s stories suggest that relationships do not constitute a promise of exemption from loneliness and isolation, as they have pointed out that loneliness and isolation are not found exclusively in solitary individuals, but also extend to those with ongoing relationships. The role of alcohol in these tragedies of loneliness and isolation is also noteworthy. Whether its omnipresence in Carver’s stories was intended for or not, it seems to be one of the hallmarks of loneliness and isolation that is strikingly relevant to the audience.
The Opinion Of 5 People About Love In Raymond Carver’s Love Novel
The text offers a background check on Raymond Carver’s personal life, focusing on the nature of his love life and how it affected him psychologically. In the initial pieces of the text, the author associates his heavy smoking and drinking as the outcome of his divorced life.
What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, part of a series of stories (and the main story) in the novel that is also given the same title. Upon reading the first parts of the text, one does not fail to encounter the elusive nature of love, in spite of the numerous efforts of the characters to define it. As such, there the impression of love being persistent and assumes many forms as revealed by the characters in the text, for instance, there is a couple who survived death while travelling by car, and the story assumes a confusing direction when in towards the end, the man is unable to spend time with his wife or even see her. In the much references and the iconic title story, the author manages to establish a reputation as one of the most successful and celebrated short-story authors in United States history. He is a haunting meditation on loss, love, and companionship, as one struggle to find his way in the dark (Carver 301). The gentleman is called McGinnis and he is in his middle 40s and is a cardiologist who is married to Terri or Teresa, whom they reside within Albuquerque.
The story revolves around four friends, including Laura, Nick, Mel, and Teresa, and the setting is in Mel’s homestead, around a circular table that is filled with ice and placed at the center of the room. There is a bottle full of gin inside. Mel is described as rangy and tall with soft hair that is also curly. On the other hand, Teresa is Mel’s second wife and is slim with an attractive face, brown hair, and dark eyes. Laura and Nick are their friends, while the former is 38 years old and plays the role of the narrator; the latter is 35 and works as a legal secretary.
The characters start to indulge in conversations about love. Teresa has gone through an abusive relationship that is derived from the love of his former boyfriend, Ed. Accordingly, he “loved her so much to the point that he tried to kill her.” He dragged her around the living room and beat her up such that he injured her ankles. Despite all that Terri told him, Mel refused to agree that Ed was driven by pure love.
There are a lot of symbols used in the story, for instance, the scorching afternoon sun represented a presence in the room, the generosity and spacious light that ushers in ease. Secondly, the heart symbolizes love. The central question is whether the audience could get clinched further because the title is not scribbled in a young adult. Thirdly, gin is used as a clock in this story because Ed’s story comes to an end when the first bottle of gin is exhausted. What is more, the story of the elderly couple comes to a halt when the second bottle of gin is finished (310).
What We Talk about When We Talk about Love offers numerous descriptions of love from the points of views of five people, including Mel, Teresa, Ed, Nick, and Laura. Before Teresa met Mel, she underwent a series of abuses under her former relationship and shares with the rest. Mel thinks that she has not yet been shown true love and strives to do so.