People looking into and imitating other’s lifestyles in Carver’s Short Stories: Will you please be quiet, please?
‘’It’s funny’’ ‘she said’ ‘’you know-to in someone’s apartment like that’’, this common notion of tapping into other people’s lives is illustrated by Arlene Miller in Neighbours. The concept of comparing one’s life to that of others is a fundamental validation process basic to the maintenance of an individual’s self-esteem. Many of Carver’s protagonists desire to live vicariously through the second-hand experiences of other’s lifestyles in an effort to re-invigour their lives. It is a disillusionment with the outcomes of their efforts-that finds many of the characters of Raymond Carver’s plainly intricately designed anthology Will you please be quiet, please?, in a position of menace and hopelessness. As Carver compassionately articulates their quiet withering existence on the fringes of economic sparsity, the audience is able to empathize with their struggles. Ultimately, they share the gritty characteristic of being bystanders, instead of reaping the fortunes of the cultural and almost mythic ‘American Dream’. Some characters come to the point of realisation that their dreams of materialistic, career orientated and familial success are destroyed due to their own inadequacies. Carver’s bleak vignettes play out simultaneously paint individuals who are about to have an epiphany concerning where their dreams failed. But lack of awareness sees them unable to change course.
The opening sentence of Neighbours portrays its leading characters as a ‘happy couple’, however it is imminently clear through Carver’s implicative language such as the way they ‘talk about’ life passing them by ‘sometimes’. They both feed their longing for their personal successes through their lonesome explorations of the apartment of Jim and Harriet Stone. Ordinary tasks such as ‘feeding kitty’ and watering the plants brings emotional fulfilment to both partners – Carver’s indication about how the monotony of their lives has distanced them from enjoying and taking pleasure in simple tasks. It is Bill who firsts conceptualises Carver’s view on disillusionment when the arousal he gets from trying on Harriet’s ‘bra’ and ‘dress’, it motivates him to intimately connect to his wife afterwards. Bill’s suggestion of ‘making love’ is not necessarily reciprocated by Arlene, indicating that Bill is really indulging in his sexual gratification. Their disconnection branches into their dinner times as well, which allows Carver to contrast how they communicate over their food with their eager attention to the ‘Stone’s food’. ‘He was not hungry. She did not eat much either’. Unfortunately, Carver seems to imply that the Miller’s destiny for living their lives struggling to sustain their marriage as the author conveys to the reader through the metaphor of the ‘wind’ dragging against them as they ‘held each other’. This carries the idea that as long as they do not accept that they are not suitable for each other, there will always be a pervasive sense dispassion and little mutual understanding in their marriage.
The couple depicted after the Millers give another layer to Carver’s worry over sexual inactivity through the result of their proximity with neighbours. In contrast to the previous narrative, Carver offers insight for the reader through first person narration of the nameless wife of ‘Vern’. We see that the couple, abashed and ‘embarrassed’ about themselves as they are, both find excitement, sexual and emotional, though watching the ‘neighbour’ ‘across the street’. Carver draws further comparison where the Miller’s experience their momentary crisis of perceiving their circumstances where as the narrator has a vague epiphany alone. More importantly Carver utilizes these little descriptions to fabricate what their existence has been reduced down to. The spouse’s line; ‘It makes us both jumpy’ exposes how unhappy and yearning they are for each other’s sexual affection and touch.
Progressively Carver inserts The Idea into his compilation directly after Neighbours to show how prolonged and even obsessive their voyeurism has become through their knowledge that ‘the event’ occurs every second or third night. In Neighbours, the depicted couple were experiencing their marital dysfunction described by Carver over a course of weeks where there was the potential for them both to confront their disharmony. The Idea comparatively contains absolutist language given by Carver to the nameless narrator to build her identity to the reader through her attitudes about her husband’s habits; ‘Vern was always smoking’. Another possible interpretation through this narrative placement is that Carver is predicting the consequences of investing attention into other human beings other than their spouses whom they only turn to for sexual satisfaction, over a long course of their relationship. Carver shows how damaged their ability to talk to each other is through how they like to eat food ‘at this time of night’ when it is the only outlets of direct attentive communication they yield. Furthermore, the title majorly reflects the narrator’s own disgraced fascination with the neighbours who in comparison to them, invest time and effort into reiterating the passion of their sexual relationship where all the narrator can do is wonder about telling her husband ‘about the ants’.
Collectors captures and reinforces a unique and powerful thematic thread Carver weaves into these particular tales that inflates his colourless landscapes. The narrator opens the exposition with ‘waiting’ and ‘looking out’ of his ‘window’ on the ‘second storey’ for a ‘job’. The reader can gather from this-as is intended by Carver, that he is representing the cases of discontent with coveting of other people’s advantages and spirits through different members of the American middle class hierarchy. The aforementioned stories share concepts of envy, self-regulated confinement and lack of commutative expression. Carver diverges them by establishing the Millers as isolated from each other within the brick walls of their second floor apartment, Vern and his wife in the single story flat in a supposed suburban area, and ‘Mr Slater’ in the ‘weather board’ two storey house of his region. As a result Carver is proving that the unescapable foreboding of a major life affecting bond submerged in peril is a ‘dis-ease’ crawling through bourgeois sectors of the American middle under and upper classes, which the author himself assimilated with and lived in. It is central to Carver’s ‘obsessions’ with why the ignored and ‘unseen’ creatures from his era passively took interest in what is actively happening outside their ‘sanctuaries’ than rather engaging and participating in life with the exterior world. In addition, Carver may intend to build his character’s identities through how their feelings about their homes ingrates in their desolate views of the country they live in.
Central protagonist Henry Robinson from the chatty narrative, What do you do in San Francisco? insists that the disintegration of the Marston’s marriage ‘has nothing to do with him’. This epitomizes the key points of Carver’s suggested views about the envy developed from the undisturbed growth of Voyeuristic tendencies in one sentence. An example that explores the tragedy inflicted on human beings by this process is reproduced in the restaurant vignette of Carver’s montage; Signals. In retrospect to Carver’s early portrayals crumbling communions and marriages, Wayne and Caroline recognise and acknowledge is under detrimental stress. The typical disillusionment however Carver identifies in their attempt to revive the spark of their relationship on the Eve of Caroline’s birthday is Wayne’s desire to seat with his wife at an expensive and exclusive French restaurant. The flaw of their brutal separation from each other and how miniscule their interaction is-is clarified implicitly when Wayne suddenly outbursts ‘well you don’t like that with your friends’. The accusative tone of his statement regarding Caroline’s knowledge of Aldo and French combined with the personal pronoun ‘’your’’, shows how removed from setting and inept Wayne is to interact with upper class social circles and accept the disparity between him and his wife. The plot is resolved in the sense that Caroline confronts Wayne’s ineptitude to fit in with her social sphere when she says to Aldo ‘I may’ come back to the restaurant ‘as much as I like’. Carver is revealing in with in-depth employment of the basic lexical choice ‘I’ to paint to the reader that Caroline knows that where they attempted to enjoy their night is a part of her world that ‘has nothing to do with’ Wayne.
Restricting the subject focus to universal themes steeped in the function of human interaction, Carver’s studies of the experiences of American men, women and children acknowledge that these profiles of people exist. He is beckoning us to define the process or event that triggers the deconstruction of relationships we see every day. Topical of Carver in the way the way he investigates this theme is his exact understanding of how the economic pressures of60s and 70s America-negatively impact on socially endorsed customs, especially fatherhood. Consequently his accessible language and representations through characters encompass the wider world of readers to remind us how of the fragility of relationships if not attended to, we are nothing but powerless to emotional and social tragedies out of our control.