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Essay Instruction
Write a 4-5 pages essay, including Introduction, 4 Body Paragraphs, and Conclusion.
This essay requires that you focus on four stories(the same as the outline you chose the four stories) from “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Carver’s collection.
*Know that specific attention will be placed on the body paragraphs, so make sure they’re clear, developed and that they present critical analyses
of the quotes used.
· Apply HOCs(Higher Order Concerns) and LOCs(Lower Order Concerns) in revision process
· Distinguish between summary and critical interpretation
· Apply proper format and citations in MLA style to an essay
I. Introduction
· Reference the title of work with full title name and full name of author
· Give a synopsis of the book (1-2 sentences)
· State your theme, which includes 1) the topic the stories revolve around and 2) what the book is saying about that topic.
II. Body Paragraphs (what’s listed below is the criteria for each body paragraph)
1. Name the short story or literary element you are focusing on
2. Develop the topic sentence; this is an opportunity for you further, and more clearly, explain what you’re focusing on in relation the literary element and/or the short story
3. Next, describe the scene from the story that relates to your literary element from your selected short story you’re focusing on
4. Cite the quote in MLA format
5. Explain how that quote reflects your stated theme (this part of the paragraph is important and where most of your interpretation is presented to the reader and should be 3-4 lines long)
(Note: there should be at least 4 body paragraphs in the above format)
III. Conclusion
· End with an overview of Carver’s book and re-emphasize the significance of your theme
· Explain what Carver’s stories reveal to us about the nature of the topic you focused on: Love, Marriage and Family, Masculinity and Femininity, or Violence.
Essay #1Outline.
The book consists of different stories with the focus of the stories being the different perceptions that people hold about love. The book addresses the theme of love which is the main focus of the narrated stories.
Thesis Statement. We all have different perceptions concerning what love is and how we experience it; there is no couple that experiences love similar to any other. It is all distinct and unique.
Main paragraph 1.
The short story to be focused on is Carver, Raymond. “Tell the Women We’re Going.”.
The plot of the story paints a love between the two men that stands out and appears to be stronger than the love they feel towards their women.
From the beginning of the story, the two men are introduced together, they continue visiting each other and sharing.
The ultimate sharing is the participation in a crime of passion at the end of the story
Quote from the story.
“….it started and ended with a rock. Jerry used the same rock on both girls…”(Carver, 1982)
Main paragraph 2.
The short story to be focused on is Carver, Raymond. “So much water so close to home.” 
The overall mood of the story is melancholy; from the onset the man is plagued and hounded as a result of the girl that they found by the river while the woman understands him.
Love in this case is showcased as a result of the willingness of the woman to be with the man in spite of his bad moods.
The ultimate show of love follows the funeral by the woman after the funeral when she is willing to be with the man.
Quote from the story.
“…”That’s right,” I say, finishing the buttons myself, “Before Dean comes. Hurry?” (Carver, 1982)
Main paragraph 3.
The story to be focused on is Champion, Laurie. “What we talk about when we talk” About Love”: Carver and Chekhov.
The literary element to focus on is the setting of the story; the author describes a home that feels cheerful and hosts two loving couples.
Love is shown in the story as a result of the narrative between the narratives; narrated to test the bonds of the relationship between each of the two couples.
Quote from the story.
“…it was killing the old fart just because he couldn’t look at the fucking woman.” (Carver, 1981)
Main paragraph 4.
The story to be focused on is Carver’s “Popular Mechanics”.
The literary device to be focused on is the theme of love in this case, the love of the child.
The couple is breaking up but no person wants to give the other the right to keep the child.
As a result of a heated conflict, the husband ultimately wins the child leaving the mother devastated.
. Quote from story
“…I want the baby. I will get someone to come by for his things.”
“You are not touching the baby,” she said. (Carver, 1981)
We all have different perceptions concerning what love is and how we experience it; there is no couple that experiences love similar to any other. It is all distinct and unique.
The best we can do is being glad with what we have however we share it with if it proves to be satisfactory.
Carver Raymond. (1981), What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Revision Stage 1: HOCs
HIGHER ORDER CONCERNS – These are the big issues, about ideas, theme, organization, and developing paragraphs. These issues are best considered early on when you are writing, long before you begin proofreading or editing. What it is you want to say – and could it be said differently, more accurately, with a different organizational structure?
· Double-check your assignment sheet and any additional notes from class
· Re-read the Prompt question to make sure you are you meeting the expectations of the assignment.
· Consider your Theme (or main claim)
· Does your Theme focus on a single Topic?
· Does your Theme state what the stories are claiming about that Topic?
· Your Audience of Readers:
· Remember that you are writing for an audience of peers (such as yourself) who have not read Raymond Carver’s book.
· This means you must always provide Context before quoting a passage, so your readers will at least know what’s going on in the scene
· DO NOT SUMMARIZE each story. This will take up too much space and take away from the important part of your essay, which is the analysis. Giving context to a scene will be enough information for your readers
· Your Body Paragraphs
· Does your Topic sentence state clearly what literary element and/or short story you’re focusing on?
· Do you develop that Topic sentence and explain in greater detail and more clearly what exactly you’re trying to show us in the story or through the literary element that connects to your Theme?
· Do the Quotes you’ve chosen really support the Topic sentence? If not, what other Quote better supports your Topic?
· MOST IMPORTANTLY do you explain to your readers how the Quote you chose supports the Theme of your essay? This is where your INTERPRETATION of the Quote should support the Theme you’ve chosen to focus on.
· How are your body paragraphs organized? Is there a way you can organize them so your analysis builds from weakest to the strongest?
· Concluding Observations
· Considering the Theme you established as the focus of your paper, what, overall, do these short stories reveal to us that we often see regarding Love, or Marriage and Family, or Masculinity and Femininity, or Violence
Revision Stage 2: LOCs
LOWER ORDER CONCERNS – These are sentence-level and more detail-oriented issues in writing, especially related to grammar, sentence structure, and mechanics.

· Clarity
· Is the grammar and mechanics of the sentence making your point more confused and difficult to understand? Have someone read your paper and ask them to mark every sentence that’s not clear to them, then go back and figure out what you can add to make it clearer.
· Get some distance so you can see what you’ve written with a fresh perspective
· Double-space lines and print out your paper rather than reading it on the computer screen
· Take a break; allow time between drafting and editing
· Read your paper aloud to hear how it sounds
· Make sure you’re Quotes are in proper MLA format, including page numbers
Tell The Women We’re Going
Raymond Carver (1982)

Bill Jamison had always been best friends with Jerry Roberts. The two grew up in the south area, near
the old fairgrounds, went through grade school and junior high together, and then on to Eisenhower,
where they took as many of the same teachers as they could manage, wore each other’s shirts and
sweaters and pegged pants, and dated and banged the same girls-whichever came up as a matter of
Summers they took jobs together-swamping peaches, picking cherries, stringing hops, anything they
could do that paid a little and where there was no boss to get on your ass. And then they bought a car
together. The summer before their senior year, they chipped in and bought a red ’54 Plymouth for 325
They shared it. It worked out fine.
But Jerry got married before the end of the first semester and dropped out of school to work steady at
Robby’s Mart.
As for Bill, he’d dated the girl too. Carol was her name, and she went just fine with Jerry, and Bill went
over there every chance he got. It made him feel older, having married friends. He’d go over there for
lunch or for supper, and they’d listen to Elvis or to Bill Haley and the Comets.
But sometimes Carol and Jerry would start making out right with Bill still there, and he’d have to get up
and excuse himself and take a walk to Dezorn’s Service Station to get some Coke because there was
only one bed in the apartment, a hide-away that came down in the living room. Or sometimes Jerry
and Carol would head off to the bathroom, and Bill would have to move to the kitchen and pretend to
be interested in the cupboards and the refrigerator and not trying to listen.
So he stopped going over so much; and then June he graduated, took a job at the Darigold plant, and
joined the National Guard. In a year he had a milk route of his own and was going steady with Linda.
So Bill and Linda would go over to Jerry and Carol’s, drink beer, and listen to records.
Carol and Linda got along fine, and Bill was flattered when Carol said that, confidentially, Linda was “a
real person.”
Jerry liked Linda too. “She’s great,” Jerry said.
When Bill and Linda got married, Jerry was best man. The reception, of course, was at the Donnelly
Hotel, Jerry and Bill cutting up together and linking arms and tossing off glasses of spiked punch. But
once, in the middle of all this happiness, Bill looked at Jerry and thought how much older Jerry looked,
a lot older than twenty-two. By then Jerry was the happy father of two kids and had moved up to
assistant manager at Robby’s, and Carol had one in the oven again.
They saw each other every Saturday and Sunday, sometimes oftener if it was a holiday. If the weather
was good, they’d be over at Jerry’s to barbecue hot dogs and turn the kids loose in the wading pool
Jerry had got for next to nothing, like a lot of other things he got from the Mart.
Jerry had a nice house. It was up on a hill overlooking the Naches. There were other houses around,
but not too close. Jerry was doing all right. When Bill and Linda and Jerry and Carol got together, it
was always at Jerry’s place because Jerry had the barbecue and the records and too many kids to
drag around.
It was a Sunday at Jerry’s place the time it happened.
The women were in the kitchen straightening up. Jerry’s girls were out in the yard throwing a plastic
ball into the wading pool, yelling, and splashing after it.
Jerry and Bill were sitting in the reclining chairs on the patio, drinking beer and just relaxing.
Bill was doing most of the talking -things about people they knew, about Darigold, about the four-door
Pontiac Catalina he was thinking of buying.
Jerry was staring at the clothesline, or at the ’68 Chevy hardtop that stood in the garage. Bill was
thinking how Jerry was getting to be deep, the way he stared all the time and hardly did any talking at
Bill moved in his chair and lighted a cigarette:
He said, “Anything wrong, man? I mean, you know.”
Jerry finished his beer and then mashed the can. He shrugged.
“You know,” he said.
Bill nodded.
Then Jerry said, “How about a little run?”
“Sounds good to me,” Bill said. “I’ll tell the women we’re going.”
They took the Naches River highway out to Gleed, Jerry driving.
The day was sunny and warm, and air blew through the car.
“Where we headed?” Bill said.
“Let’s shoot a few balls.”
“Fine with me,” Bill said. He felt a whole lot better just seeing Jerry brighten up.
“Guy’s got to get out,” Jerry said. He looked at Bill. “You know what I mean?”
Bill understood. He liked to get out with the guys from the plant for the Friday-night bowling league. He
liked to stop off twice a week after work to have a few beers with Jack Broderick. He knew a guy’s got
to get out.
“Still standing,” Jerry said, as they pulled up onto the gravel in front of the Rec Center.
They went inside, Bill holding the door for Jerry, Jerry punching Bill lightly in the stomach as he went
on by.
“Hey there!”
It was Riley.
“Hey, how you boys keeping?”
It was Riley coming around from behind the counter, grinning. He was a heavy man. He had on a
short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt that hung outside his jeans. Riley said, “So how you boys been keeping?”
“Ah, dry up and give us a couple of Olys,” Jerry said, winking at Bill. “So how you been, Riley?” Jerry
Riley said, “So how are you boys doing? Where you been keeping yourselves? You boys getting any
on the side? Jerry, the last time I saw you, your old lady was six months gone.”
Jerry stood a minute and blinked his eyes.
“So how about the Olys?” Bill said.
They took stools near the window. Jerry said, “What kind of place is this, Riley, that it don’t have any
girls on a Sunday afternoon?”
Riley laughed. He said, “I guess they’re all in church praying for it.”
They each had five cans of beer and took two hours to play three racks of rotation and two racks of
snooker, Riley sitting on a stool and talking and watching them play, Bill always looking at his watch
and then looking at Jerry.
Bill said, “So what do you think, Jerry? I mean, what do you think?” Bill said.
Jerry drained his can, mashed it, then stood for a time turning the can in his hand.

Back on the highway, Jerry opened it up-little jumps of eighty-five and ninety. They’d just passed an
old pickup loaded with furniture when they saw the two girls.
“Look at that!” Jerry said, slowing. “I could use some of that.”
Jerry drove another mile or so and then pulled off the road.
“Let’s go back,” Jerry said.
“Let’s try it.”
“Jesus,” Bill said. “I don’t know.”
“I could use some,” Jerry said.
Bill said, “Yeah, but I don’t know.”
“For Christ’s sake,” Jerry said.
Bil lanced at his watch and then looked all around. He said, ‘You do the talking. I’m rusty.”
Jerry hoote and parked the car around.
He slowed when he came nearly even with the girls. He pulled the Chevy onto the shoulder across
from them. The girls kept on going on their bicycles, but they looked at each other and laughed. The
one on the inside was darkhaired, tall, and willowy. The other was light-haired and smaller. They both
wore shorts and halters.
“Bitches,” Jerry said.
He waited for the cars to pass so he could pull a U.
”I’ll take the brunette,” he said. “The little one’s yours.”
Bill moved his back against the front seat and touched the bridge of his sunglasses.
“They’re not going to do anything,” Bill said.
“They’re going to be on your side,” Jerry said.
He pulled across the road and drove back. “Get ready,” Jerry said.
“Hi,” Bill said as the girls bicycled up. “My name’s Bill,” Bill said.
“That’s nice,” the brunette said.
“Where are you going?” Bill said.
The girls didn’t answer. The little one laughed. They kept bicycling and Jerry kept driving.

“Oh, come on now. Where you going?” Bill said.
“No place,” the little one said.
“Where’s no place?” Bill said.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” the little one said.
“I told you my name,” Bill said. “What’s yours? My friend’s Jerry,” Bill said.
The girls looked at each other and laughed.
A car came up from behind. The driver hit his horn.
“Cram it!” Jerry shouted.
He pulled off a little and let the car go around. Then he pulled back up alongside the girls.
Bill said, “We’ll give you a lift. We’ll take you where you want. That’s a promise. You must be tired
riding those bicycles. You look tired. Too much exercise isn’t good for a person. Especially for girls.”
The girls laughed.
“You see?” Bill said. “Now tell us your names.”
“I’m Barbara, she’s Sharon,” the little one said.
“All right!” Jerry said. “Now find out where they’re going.”
“Where you girls going?” Bill said. “Barb?”
She laughed. “No place,” she said. “Just down the road.”
“Where down the road?”
“Do you want me to tell them?” she said to the other girl.
“I don’t care,” the other girl said. “It doesn’t make any difference,” she said. “I’m not going to go
anyplace with anybody anyway,” the one named Sharon said.
“Where you going?” Bill said. “Are you going to Picture Rock?”
The girls laughed. “That’s where they’re going,” Jerry said.
He fed the Chevy gas and pulled up off onto the shoulder so that the girls had to come by on his side.
“Don’t be that way,” Jerry said. He said, “Come on.” He said, “We’re all introduced.”
The girls just rode all by.
“I won’t bite you!” Jerry shouted.
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.
Jerry gunned it back onto the highway, dirt and pebbles flying from under the tires.
“We’ll be seeing you!” Bill called as they went speeding by.
“It’s in the bag,” Jerry said. “You see the look that cunt gave me?”
“I don’t know,” Bill said. “Maybe we should cut for home.”
“We got it made!” Jerry said.

He pulled off the road under some trees. The highway forked here at Picture Rock, one road going on
to Yakima, the other heading for Naches, Enumclaw, the Chinook Pass, Seattle.
A hundred yards off the road was a high, sloping, black mound of rock, part of a low range of hills,
honeycombed with footpaths and small caves, Indian sign-painting here and there on the cave walls.
The cliff side of the rock faced the highway and all over it there were things like this: NACHES 67-
They sat in the car, smoking cigarettes. Mosquitoes came in and tried to get at their hands.
“Wish we had a beer now,” Jerry said. “I sure could go for a beer,” he said. Bill said, “Me too,” and
looked at his watch.

When the girls came into view, Jerry and Bill got out of the car. They leaned against the fender in
“Remember,” Jerry said, starting away from the car, “the dark one’s mine. You got the other one.”

The girls dropped their bicycles and started up one of the paths. They disappeared around a bend and
then reappeared again, a little higher up. They were standing there and looking down.
“What’re you guys following us for?” the brunette called down.
Jerry just started up the path.
The girls turned away and went off again at a trot.
Jerry and Bill kept climbing at a walking pace.
Bill was smoking a cigarette, stopping every so often to get a good drag. When the path turned, he
looked back and caught a glimpse of the car.

“Move it!” Jerry said.
“I’m coming,” Bill said.
They kept climbing. But then Bill had to catch his breath.
He couldn’t see the car now. He couldn’t see the highway, either. To his left and all the way down, he
could see a strip of the Naches like a strip of aluminium foil. Jerry said, “You go right and I’ll go
straight. We’ll cut the cockteasers off.”
Bill nodded. He was too winded to speak.
He went higher for a while, and then the path began to drop, turning toward the valley. He looked and
saw the girls. He saw them crouched behind an outcrop. Maybe they were smiling.
Bill took out a cigarette. But he could not get it lit. Then Jerry showed up. It did not matter after that.
Bill had just wanted to fuck. Or even to see them naked. On the other hand, it was okay with him if it
didn’t work out.
He never knew what Jerry wanted. But it started and ended with a rock. Jerry used the same rock on
both girls, first on the girl called Sharon and then on the one that was supposed to be Bill’s.

So Much Water So Close To Home
By Raymond Carver
My husband eats with a good appetite. But I don’t think he’s really hungry. He chews,
arms on the table, and stares at something across the room. He looks at me and looks away. He
wipes his mouth on the napkin. He shrugs, and goes on eating.
“What are you staring at me for?” he says. “What is it?” he says and lays down his fork.
“Was I staring?” I say, and shake my head. The telephone rings.
“Don’t answer it,” he says.
“It might be your mother,” I say.
“Watch and see,” he says.
I pick up the receiver and listen. My husband stops eating.
“What did I tell you?” he says when I hang up. He starts to eat again. Then throws his
napkin on his plate. He says, “Goddamn it, why can’t people mind their own business? Tell me
what I did wrong and I’ll listen! I wasn’t the only man there. We talked it over and we all
decided. We couldn’t just turn around. We were five miles from the car. I won’t have you
passing judgment. Do you hear?”
“You know,” I say.
He says, “What do I know, Claire? Tell me what I’m supposed to know. I don’t know
anything except one thing?’ He gives me what he thinks is a meaningful look. “She was dead,”
he says. “And I’m as sorry as anyone else. But she was dead.”
“That’s the point,” I say.
He raises his hands. He pushes his chair away from the table. He takes out his cigarettes
and goes out to the back with a can of beer. ~ see him sit in the lawn chair and pick up the
newspaper again.
His name is in there on the first page. Along with the names of his friends. I close my
eyes and hold on to the sink. Then I rake my arm across the drainboard and send the dishes to the
floor. He doesn’t move. I know he’s heard. He lifts his head as if still listening. But he doesn’t
move otherwise. He doesn’t turn around.
He and Gordon Johnson and Mel Dorn and Vern Williams, they play poker and bowl and
fish. They fish every spring and early summer before visiting relatives can get in the way. They
are decent men, family men, men who take care of their jobs. They have sons and daughters who
go to school with our son, Dean.
Last Friday these family men left for the Naches River. They parked the car in the
mountains and hiked to where they wanted to fish. They carried their bedrolls, their food, their
playing cards, their whiskey. They saw the girl before they set up camp. Mel Dorn found her. No
clothes on her at all. She was wedged into some branches that stuck out over the water.
He called the others and they came to look. They talked about what to do. One of the men-my
Stuart didn’t say which-said they should start back at once. The others stirred the sand with their
shoes, said they didn’t feel inclined that way. They pleaded fatigue, the late hour, the fact that the
girl wasn’t going anywhere.
In the end they went ahead and set up the camp. They built a fire and drank their
whiskey. When the moon came up, they talked about the girl. Someone said they should -keep
the body from drifting away. They took their flashlights and went back to the river. One of the
men-it might have been Stuart-waded in and got her. He took her by the fingers and pulled her
into shore. He got some nylon cord and tied it to her wrist and then looped the rest around a tree.
The next morning they cooked breakfast, drank coffee, and drank whiskey, and then split up to
That night they cooked fish, cooked potatoes, drank coffee, drank whiskey, then took
their cooking things and eating things back down to the river and washed them where the girl
They played some cards later on. Maybe they played until they couldn’t see them
anymore. Vern Williams went to sleep. But the others told stories. Gordon Johnson said the trout
they’d caught were hard because of the terrible coldness of the water.
The next morning they got up late, drank whiskey, fished a little, took down their tents,
rolled their sleeping bags, gathered their stuff, and hiked out. They drove until they got to a
telephone. It was Stuart who made the call while the others stood around in the sun and listened.
He gave the sheriff their names. They had nothing to hide. They weren’t ashamed. They said
they’d wait until someone could come for better directions and take down their statements.
I was asleep when he got home. But I woke up when I heard him in the kitchen. I found
him leaning against the refrigerator with a can of beer. He put his heavy arms around me and
rubbed his big hands on my back. In bed he put his hands on me again and then waited as if
thinking of something else. I turned and opened my legs. Afterwards, I think he stayed awake.
He was up that morning before I could get out of bed. To see if there was something in the paper,
I suppose.
The telephone began ringing right after eight.
“Go to hell!” I heard him shout. The telephone rang right again. “I have nothing to add to
what sherirn…”
He slammed the receiver down.
“What is going on?” I said.
It was then that he told me what I just told you.
I sweep up the broken dishes and go outside. He is lying on his back on the grass now, the
newspaper and can of beer within reach.
“Stuart, could we go for a drive?” I say.
He rolls over and looks at me. “We’ll pick up some beer,” he says. He gets to his feet and
touches me on the hip as he goes past. “Give me a minute,” he says.
We drive through town without speaking. He stops at a roadside market for beer. I notice
a great stack ofpapersjust inside the door. On the top step a fat woman in a print dress holds out a
licorice stick to a little girl. Later on, we cross Everson Creek and turn into the picnic grounds.
The creek runs under the bridge and into a large pond a few hundred yards away. I can see the
men out there. I can see them out there fishing.
So much water so close to home I say, “Why did you have to go miles away?”
“Don’t rile me,” he says.
We sit on a bench in the sun. He opens us cans of beer. He says, “Relax, Claire.”
“They said they were innocent. They said they were crazy.”
He says, “Who?” He says, “What are you talking about?”
“The Maddox brothers. They killed a girl named Arlene Hubly where I grew up. They cut
off her head and threw her into the Cle Elum River. It happened when I was a girl.”
“You’re going to get me riled,” he says.
I look at the creek. I’m right in it, eyes open, face down, staring at the moss on the
bottom, dead.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” he says on the way home. “You’re getting me
more riled by the minute.”
There is nothing I can say to him. He tries to concentrate on the road. But he keeps
looking into the rear-view mirror. He knows.
Stuart believes he is letting me sleep this morning. But I was awake long before the alarm went
off. I was thinking, lying on the far side of the bed away from his hairy legs.
He gets Dean off for school, and then he shaves, dresses, and leaves for work. Twice he
looks in and clears his throat. But I keep my eyes closed.
In the kitchen I find a note from him. It’s signed “Love.” I sit in the breakfast nook and
drink coffee and leave a ring on the note. I look at the newspaper and turn it this way and that on
the table. Then I skid it close and read what it says. The body has been identified, claimed. But it
took some examining it, some putting things into it, some cutting, some weighing, some
measuring, some putting things back again and sewing them in. I sit for a long time holding the
newspaper and thinking. Then I call up to get a chair at the hairdresser’s.
I sit under the dryer with a magazine on my lap and let Marnie do my nails.
“I am going to a funeral tomorrow,” I say. “I’m sorry to hear that,” Marnie says. “It was a
murder,” I say.
“That’s the worst kind,” Marnie says.
“We weren’t all that close,” I say. “But you know?’
“We’ll get you fixed up for it,” Marnie says.
That night I make my bed on the sofa, and in the morning I get up first. I put on coffee
and fix breakfast while he shaves. He appears in the kitchen doorway, towel over his bare
shoulder, appraising.
“Here’s coffee,” I say. “Eggs’ll be ready in a minute?’
I wake Dean, and the three of us eat. Whenever Stuart looks at me, I ask Dean if he wants
more milk, more toast, etc.
“I’ll call you today,” Stuart says as he opens the door.
I say, “I don’t think I’ll be home today.”
“All right,” he says. “Sure.”
I dress carefully. I try on a hat and look at myself in the mirror. I write out a note for
Honey, Mommy has things to do this afternoon, but will be back later. You stay in or be in the
backyard until one of us comes home.
Love, Mommy
I look at the word Love and then I underline it. Then I see the word backyard. Is it one word or
I drive through farm country, through fields of oats and sugar beets and past apple
orchards, cattle grazing in pastures. Then everything changes, more like shacks than farmhouses
and stands of timber instead of orchards. Then mountains, and on the right, far below, I
sometimes see the Naches River. A green pickup comes up behind me and stays behind me for
miles. I keep slowing at the wrong times, hoping he will pass. Then I speed up. But this is at the
wrong times, too. I grip the wheel until my fingers hurt.
On a long clear stretch he goes past. But he drives along beside for a bit, a crewcut man
in a blue workshirt. We look each other over. Then he waves, toots his horn, and pulls on up
ahead. I slow down and find a place. I pull over and shut off the motor. I can hear the river down
below the trees. Then I hear the pickup coming back.
I lock the doors and roll up the windows.
“You all right?” the man says. He raps on the glass. “You okay?” He leans his arms on
the door and brings his face to the window.
I stare at him. I can’t think what else to do.
“Is everything all right in there? How come you’re all locked up?”
I shake my head.
“Roll down your window?’ He shakes his head and looks at the highway and then back at
me. “Roll it down now.”
“Please,” I say, “I have to go.”
“Open the door,” he says as if he isn’t listening. “You’re going to choke in there.”
He looks at my breasts, my legs. I can tell that’s what he’s doing.
“Hey, sugar,” he says. “I’m just here to help is all.”
The casket is closed and covered with floral sprays. The organ starts up the minute I take
a seat. People are coming in and finding chairs. There’s a boy in flared pants and a yellow short-
sleeved shirt. A door opens and the family comes in in a group and moves over to a curtained
place off to one side. Chairs creak as everybody gets settled. Directly, a nice blond man in a nice
dark suit stands and asks us to bow our heads. He says a prayer for us, the living, and when he
finishes, he says a prayer for the soul of the departed.
Along with the others I go past the casket. Then I move out onto the front steps and into
the afternoon light. There’s a woman who limps as she goes down the stairs ahead of me. On the
sidewalk she looks around.
“Well, they got him,” she says. “If that’s any consolation. They arrested him this
morning. I heard it on the radio before I come. A boy right here in town.”
We move a few steps down the hot sidewalk. People are starting cars. I put out my hand
and hold on to a parking meter. Polished hoods and polished fenders. My head swims.
I say, “They have friends, these killers. You can’t tell.”
“I have known that child since she was a little girl,” the woman says. “She used to come
over and I’d bake cookies for her and let her eat them in front of the TV.”
Back home, Stuart sits at the table with a drink of whiskey in front of him. For a crazy instant I
think something’s happened to Dean.
“Where is he?” I say. “Where is Dean?”
“Outside,” my husband says.
He drains his glass and stands up. He says, “I think I know what you need.” He reaches
an arm around my waist and with his other hand he begins to unbutton my jacket and then he
goes on to the buttons of my blouse.
“First things first,” he says.
He says something else. But I don’t need to listen. I can’t hear a thing with so much water going.
“That’s right,” I say, finishing the buttons myself, “Before Dean comes. Hurry?”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Raymond Carver (1981)
My friend Mel McGinnis was talking. Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and
sometimes that gives him the right. The four of us were sitting around
his kitchen table drinking gin. Sunlight filled the kitchen from the big
window behind the sink. There were Mel and me and his second wife,
Teresa‐‐ Terri, we called her‐‐ and my wife, Laura. We lived in
Albuquerque then. But we were all from somewhere else.
There was an ice bucket on the table. The gin and the tonic water kept
going around, and we somehow got on the subject of love. Mel thought
real love was nothing less than spiritual love. He said he’d spent five
years in a seminary before quitting to go to medical school. He said he
still looked back on those years in the seminary as the most important
years in his life.
Terri said the man she lived with before she lived with Mel loved her so
much he tried to kill her. Then Terri said, “He beat me up one night. He
dragged me around the living room by my ankles. He kept saying, `I
love you, I love you, you bitch.’ He went on dragging me around the
living room. My head kept knocking on things.” Terri looked around the
table. “What do you do with love like that?”
She was a bone‐thin woman with a pretty face, dark eyes, and brown
hair that hung down her back. She liked necklaces made of turquoise,
and long, pendant earrings.
“My God, don’t be silly. That’s not love, and you know it,” Mel said. “I
don’t know what you’d call it, but I sure know you wouldn’t call it love.”
“Say what you want to, but I know it was,” Terri said. “It may sound
crazy to you, but it’s true just the same. People are different, Mel. Sure,
sometimes he may have acted crazy. Okay. But he loved me. In his own
way maybe, but he loved me. There was love there, Mel. Don’t say there
Mel let out his breath. He held his glass and turned to Laura and me.
“The man threatened to kill me,” Mel said. He finished his drink and
reached for the gin bottle. “Terri’s a romantic. Terri’s of the kick‐me‐so‐
I’ll‐know‐you‐love‐me school. Terri, hon, don’t look that way.” Mel
reached across the table and touched Terri’s cheek with his fingers. He
grinned at her.
“Now he wants to make up,” Terri said.
“Make up what?” Mel said. “What is there to make up? I know what I
know. That’s all,’
“How’d we get started on this subject, anyway?” Terri said. She raised
her glass and drank from it. “Mel always has love on his mind,” she said.
“Don’t you, honey?” She smiled, and I thought that was the last of it.
“I just wouldn’t call Ed’s behavior love. That’s all I’m saying, honey,”
Mel said. “What about you guys?” Mel said to Laura and me. “Does that
sound like love to you?”
“I’m the wrong person to ask,” I said. “I didn’t even know the man. I’ve
only heard his name mentioned in passing. I wouldn’t know. You’d have
to know the particulars. But I think what you’re saying is that love is an
Mel said, “The kind of love I’m talking about is. The kind of love I’m
talking about, you don’t try to kill people.”
Laura said, “I don’t know anything about Ed, or anything about the
situation. But who can judge anyone else’s situation?”
I touched the back of Laura’s hand. She gave me a quick smile. I picked
up Laura’s hand. It was warm, the nails polished, perfectly manicured. I
encircled the broad wrist with my fingers, and I held her.
“When I left, he drank rat poison,” Terri said. She clasped her arms with
her hands. “They took him to the hospital in Santa Fe. That’s where we
lived then, about ten miles out. They saved his life. But his gums went
crazy from it. I mean they pulled away from his teeth. After that, his
teeth stood out like fangs. My God,” Terri said. She waited a minute,
then let go of her arms and picked up her glass.
“What people won’t do!” Laura said.
“He’s out of the action now,” Mel said. ‘He’s dead.”
Mel handed me the saucer of limes. I took a section, squeezed it over my
drink, and stirred the ice cubes with my finger.
“It gets worse,” Terri said. “He shot himself in the mouth. But he
bungled that too. Poor Ed,” she said. Terri shook her head.
“Poor Ed nothing,” Mel said. “He was dangerous.”
Mel was forty‐five years old. He was tall and curly soft hair. His face and
arms were brown from the tennis he played. When he was sober, his
gestures, all his movements, were precise, very careful.
“He did love me though, Mel. Grant me that,” Terri said. “That’s all I’m
asking. He didn’t love me the way you love me. I’m not saying that. But
he loved me. You can grant me that, can’t you?”
“What do you mean, he bungled it?” I said.
Laura leaned forward with her glass. She put her elbows on the table
and held her glass in both hands. She glanced from Mel to Terri and
waited with a look of bewilderment on her open face, as if amazed that
such things happened to people you were friendly with.
“How’d he bungle it when he killed himself?” I said.
“I’ll tell you what happened,” Mel said. “He took this twenty‐two pistol
he’d bought to threaten Terri and me with. Oh, I’m serious. The man
was always threatening. You should have seen the way we lived in
those days. Like fugitives. I even bought a gun myself. Can you believe it?
A guy like me? But I did, I bought one for self‐defense and carried it in
the glove compartment. Sometimes I’d have to leave the apartment in
the middle of the night. To go to the hospital, you know? Terri and l
weren’t married then, and my first wife had the house and kids, the dog,
everything, and Terri and I were living in this apartment here.
Sometimes, as I say, I’d get a call in the middle of the night and have to
go in to the hospital at two or three in the morning. It’d be dark out
there in the parking lot, and I’d break into a sweat before I could even
get to my car. I never knew if he was going to come up out of the
shrubbery or from behind a car and start shooting. I mean, the man was
crazy. He was capable of wiring a bomb, anything. He used to call my
service at all hours and say he needed to talk to the doctor, and when
I’d return the call, he’d say, ‘Son of a bitch, your days are numbered.’
Little things like that. It was scary, I’m telling you.”
“I still feel sorry for him,” Terri said.
“It sounds like a nightmare” Laura said. “But what exactly happened
after he shot himself?”
Laura is a legal secretary. We’d met in a professional capacity. Before
we knew it, it was a courtship. She’s thirty‐five, three years younger
than I am. In addition to being in love, we like each other and enjoy one
another’s company. She’s easy to be with.
“What happened?” Laura said.
Mel said, “He shot himself in the mouth in his room. Someone heard the
shot and told the manager. They came in with a passkey, saw what had
happened, and called an ambulance. I happened to be there when they
brought him in, alive but past recall. The man lived for three days. His
head swelled up to twice the size of a normal head. I’d never seen
anything like it, and I hope I never do again. Terri wanted to go in and
sit with him when she found out about it. We had a fight over it. I didn’t
think she should see him like that. I didn’t think she should see him, and
I still don’t.”
“Who won the fight?” Laura said.
I was in the room with him when he died,” Terri said. “He never came
up out of it. But I sat with him. He didn’t have anyone else.”
“He was dangerous,” Mel said. “If you call that love, you can have it.”
It was love,” Terri said. “Sure, it’s abnormal in most people’s eyes. But
he was willing to die for it. He did die for it.”
“I sure as hell wouldn’t call it love,” Mel said. “I mean, no one knows
what he did it for. I’ve seen a lot of suicides, and l couldn’t say anyone
ever knew what they did it for.”
Mel put his hands behind his neck and tilted his chair back. “I’m not
interested in that kind of love,” he said. “If that’s love, you can have it.”
Terri said, “We were afraid. Mel even made a will out and wrote to his
brother in California who used to be a Green Beret. Mel told him who to
look for if something happened to him.”
Terri drank from her glass. She said, “But Mel’s right‐‐ we lived like
fugitives. We were afraid. Mel was, weren’t you, honey? I even called
the police at one point, but they were no help. They said they couldn’t
do anything until Ed actually did something. Isn’t that a laugh?” Terri
She poured the last of the gin into her glass and waggled the bottle. Mel
got up from the table and went to the cupboard. He took down another
“Well, Nick and I know what love is,” Laura said. “For us, I mean,” Laura
said. She bumped my knee with her knee. “You’re supposed to say
something now,” Laura said, and turned her smile on me.
For an answer, I took Laura’s hand and raised it to my lips. I made a big
production out of kissing her hand. Everyone was amused.
“We’re lucky,” I said.
“You guys,” Terri said. “Stop that now. You’re making me sick. You’re
still on the honeymoon, for God’s sake. You’re still gaga, for crying out
loud. Just wait. How long have you been together now? How long has it
been? A year? Longer than a year?”
“Going on a year and a half,” Laura said, flushed and smiling.
“Oh, now,” Terri said. “Wait a while.”
She held her drink and gazed at Laura.
“I’m only kidding,” Terri said.
Mel opened the gin and went around the table with the bottle.
“Here, you guys,” he said. “Let’s have a toast. I want to propose a toast.
A toast to love. To true love,” Mel said.
We touched glasses.
“To love,” we said.
Outside in the backyard, one of the dogs began to bark. The leaves of
the aspen that leaned past the window ticked against the glass. The
afternoon sun was like a presence in this room, the spacious light of
ease and generosity. We could have been anywhere, somewhere
enchanted. We raised our glasses again and grinned at each other like
children who had agreed on something forbidden.
“I’ll tell you what real love is,” Mel said. “I mean, I’ll give you a good
example. And then you can draw your own conclusions.” He poured
more gin into his glass. He added an ice cube and a sliver of lime. We
waited and sipped our drinks. Laura and I touched knees again. I put a
hand on her warm thigh and left it there.
“What do any of us really know about love?” Mel said. “It seems to me
we’re just beginners at love. We say we love each other and we do, I
don’t doubt it. I love Terri and Terri loves me, and you guys love each
other too. You know the kind of love I’m talking about now. Physical
love, that impulse that drives you to someone special, as well as love of
the other person’s being, his or her essence, as it were. Carnal love and,
well, call it sentimental love, the day‐to‐day caring about the other
person. But sometimes I have a hard time accounting for the fact that I
must have loved my first wife too. But I did. I know I did. So I suppose I
am like Terri in that regard. Terri and Ed.” He thought about it and then
he went on. “There was a time when I thought I loved my first wife
more than life itself. But now I hate her guts. I do. How do you explain
that? What happened to that love? What happened to it, is what I’d like
to know. I wish someone could tell me. Then there’s Ed. Okay, we’re
back to Ed. He loves Terri so much he tries to kill her and he winds up
killing himself.” Mel stopped talking and swallowed from his glass. “You
guys have been together eighteen months and you love each other. It
shows all over you. You glow with it. But you both loved other people
before you met each other. You’ve both been married before, just like
us. And you probably loved other people before that too, even. Terri
and I have been together five years, been married for four. And the
terrible thing, the terrible thing is, but the good thing too, the saving
grace, you might say, is that if something happened to one of us‐‐
excuse me for saying this‐‐ but if something happened to one of us
tomorrow I think the other one, the other person, would grieve for a
while, you know, but then the surviving party would go out and love
again, have someone else soon enough. All this, all of this love we’re
talking about, it would just be a memory. Maybe not even a memory.
Am I wrong? Am I way off base? Because I want you to set me straight if
you think I’m wrong. I want to know. I mean, I don’t know anything,
and I’m the first one to admit it.”
“Mel, for God’s sake,” Terri said. She reached out and took hold of his
wrist. “Are you getting drunk? Honey? Are you drunk?”
“Honey, I’m just talking.” Mel said. “All right? I don’t have to be drunk to
say what I think. I mean, we’re all just talking, right?” Mel said. He fixed
his eyes on her.
“Sweetie, I’m not criticizing,” Terri said.
She picked up her glass.
“I’m not on call today,” Mel said. “Let me remind you of that. I am not on
call,” he said.
“Mel, we love you,” Laura said.
Mel looked at Laura. He looked at her as if he could not place her, as if
she was not the woman she was.
“Love you too, Laura,” Mel said. “And you, Nick, love you too. You know
something?” Mel said, “You guys are our pals,” Mel said.
He picked up his glass.
Mel said, “I was going to tell you about something. I mean, I was going
to prove a point. You see, this happened a few months ago, but it’s still
going on right now, and it ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk
like we know what we’re talking about when we talk above love.”
“Come on now,” Terri said. “Don’t talk like you’re drunk if you’re not
“Just shut up for once in your life,” Mel said very quietly. “Will you do
me a favor and do that for a minute? So as I was saying, there’s this old
couple who had this car wreck out on the interstate. A kid hit them and
they were all torn to shit and nobody was giving them much chance to
pull through.”
Terri looked at us and then back at Mel. She seemed anxious, or maybe
that’s too strong a word.
Mel was handing the bottle around the table.
“I was on call that night,” Mel said. “It was May or maybe it was June.
Terri and I had just sat down to dinner when the hospital called.
There’d been this thing out on the interstate. Drunk kid, teenager,
plowed his dad’s pickup into this camper with this old couple in it. They
were in their mid‐seventies, that couple. The kid‐‐ eighteen, nineteen,
something‐‐ he was DOA. Taken the steering wheel through his
sternum. The old couple, they were alive, you understand. I mean, just
barely. But they had everything. Multiple fractures, internal injuries,
hemorrhaging, contusions, lacerations, the works, and they each of
them had themselves concussions. They were in a bad way, believe me.
And, of course, their age was two strikes against them. I’d say she was
worse off than he was. Ruptured spleen along with everything else.
Both kneecaps broken. But they’d been wearing their seatbelts and,
God knows, that’s what saved them for the time being.”
“Folks, this is an advertisement for the National Safety Council,” Terri
said. “This is your spokesman, Dr. Melvin R. McGinnis, talking.” Terri
laughed. “Mel,” she said, “sometimes you’re just too much. But I love
you, hon,” she said.
“Honey, I love you,” Mel said.
He leaned across the table. Terri met him halfway. They kissed.
“Terri’s right,” Mel said as he settled himself again. “Get those seatbelts
on. But seriously, they were in some shape, those oldsters. By the time I
got down there, the kid was dead, as I said. He was off in a corner, laid
out on a gurney. I took one look at the old couple and told the ER nurse
to get me a neurologist and an orthopedic man and a couple of
surgeons down there right away.”
He drank from his glass. “I’ll try to keep this short,” he said. “So we took
the two of them up to the OR and worked like fuck on them most of the
night. They had these incredible reserves, those two. You see that once
in a while. So we did everything that could be done, and toward
morning we’re giving them a fifty‐fifty chance, maybe less than that for
her. So here they are, still alive the next morning. So, okay, we move
them into the ICU, which is where they both kept plugging away at it for
two weeks, hitting it better and better on all the scopes. So we transfer
them out to their own room.”
Mel stopped talking. “Here,” he said, “let’s drink this cheapo gin the hell
up. Then we’re going to dinner, right? Terri and I know a new place.
That’s where we’ll go, to this new place we know about. But we’re not
going until we finish up this cut‐rate, lousy gin.”
Terri said, “We haven’t actually eaten there yet. But it looks good. From
the outside, you know.”
“I like food,” Mel said. “If I had it to do all over again, I’d be a chef, you
know? Right, Terri?” Mel said.
He laughed. He fingered the ice in his glass.
“Terri knows,” he said. “Terri can tell you. But let me say this. If I could
come back again in a different life, a different time and all, you know
what? I’d like to come back as a knight. You were pretty safe wearing all
that armor. It was all right being a knight until gunpowder and muskets
and pistols came along.”
“Mel would like to ride a horse and carry a lance,” Terri said.
“Carry a woman’s scarf with you everywhere,” Laura said.
“Or just a woman,” Mel said.
“Shame on you,” Laura said.
Terri said, “Suppose you came back as a serf. The serfs didn’t have it so
good in those days,” Terri said.
“The serfs never had it good,” Mel said. “But I guess even the knight
were vessels to someone.
Isn’t that the way it worked? But then everyone is always a vessels to
someone. Isn’t that right, Terri? But what I liked about knights, besides
their ladies, was that they had that suit of armor, you know, and they
couldn’t get hurt very easy. No cars in those days, you know? No drunk
teenagers to tear into your ass.”
“Vassals,” Terri said.
“What?” Mel said.
“Vassals,” Terri said. “They were called vassals, not vessels.”
“Vassals, vessels,” Mel said, “what the fuck’s the difference? You knew
what I meant anyway. All right,” Mel said. “So I’m not educated. I
learned my stuff, I’m a heart surgeon, sure, but I’m just a mechanic. I go
in and fuck around and fix things. Shit,” Mel said.
“Modesty doesn’t become you,” Terri said.
“He’s just a humble sawbones,” I said. “But sometimes they suffocated
in all that armor, Mel. They’d even have heart attacks if it got too hot
and they were too tired and worn out. I read somewhere that they’d fall
off their horses and not be able to get up because they were too tired to
stand with all that armor on them. They got trampled by their own
horses sometimes.”
“That’s terrible,” Mel said. “That’s a terrible thing, Nicky. I guess they’d
just lay there and wait until somebody came along and made a shish
kebab out of them.”
“Some other vessel,” Terri said.
“That’s right,” Mel said. “Some vassal would come along and spear the
bastard in the name of love. Or whatever the fuck it was they fought
over in those days.”
“Same things we fight over these days,” Terri said.
Laura said, “Nothing’s changed.”
The color was still high in Laura’s cheeks. Her eyes were bright. She
brought her glass to her lips.
Mel poured himself another drink. He looked at the label closely as if
studying a long row of numbers. Then he slowly put the bottle down on
the table and slowly reached for the tonic water.
“What about the old couple?” Laura asked. “You didn’t finish that story
you started.”
Laura was having a hard time lighting her cigarette. Her matches kept
going out.
The sunshine inside the room was different now, changing, getting
thinner. But the leaves outside the window were still shimmering, and I
stared at the pattern they made on the panes and on the Formica
counter. They weren’t the same patterns, of course.
“What about the old couple?” I asked.
“Older but wiser,” Terri said.
Mel stared at her.
Terri said, “Go on with your story, hon. I was only kidding. Then what
“Terri, sometimes,” Mel said.
“Please, Mel,” Terri said. “Don’t always be so serious, sweetie. Can’t you
take a joke?”
He held his glass and gazed steadily at his wife.
“What happened?” Laura said.
Mel fastened his eyes on Laura. He said, “Laura, if I didn’t have Terri
and if I didn’t love her so much, and if Nick wasn’t my best friend, I’d
fall in love with you. I’d carry you off, honey,” he said.
“Tell your story,” Terri said. “Then we’ll go to that new place, okay?”
“Okay,” Mel said. “Where was I?” he said. He stared at the table and then
he began again.
“I dropped in to see each of them every day, sometimes twice a day if I
was up doing other calls anyway. Casts and bandages, head to foot, the
both of them. You know, you’ve seen it in the movies. That’s just the
way they looked, just like in the movies. Little eye‐holes and nose‐holes
and mouth‐holes. And she had to have her legs slung up on top of it.
Well, the husband was very depressed for the longest while. Even after
he found out that his wife was going to pull through, he was still very
depressed. Not about the accident, though. I mean, the accident was one
thing, but it wasn’t everything. I’d get up to his mouth‐hole, you know,
and he’d say no, it wasn’t the accident exactly but it was because he
couldn’t see her through his eye‐holes. 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.”
Mel looked around the table and shook his head at what he was going
to say. “I mean, it was killing the old fart just because he couldn’t look at
the fucking woman.”
We all looked at Mel.
“Do you see what I’m saying?” he said.
Maybe we were a little drunk by then. I know it was hard keeping
things in focus. The light was draining out of the room, going back
through the window where it had come from. Yet nobody made a move
to get up from the table to turn on the overhead light.
“Listen,” Mel said. “Let’s finish this fucking gin. There’s about enough
left here for one shooter all around. Then let’s go eat. Let’s go to the
new place.”
“He’s depressed,” Terri said. “Mel, why don’t you take a pill?”
Mel shook his head, “I’ve taken everything there is.”
“We all need a pill now and then.” I said.
“Some people are born needing them,” Terri said.
She was using her finger to rub at something on the table. Then she
stopped rubbing,
“I think I want to call my kids,” Mel said. “Is that all right with
everybody? I’ll call my kids,” he said.
Terri said, “What if Marjorie answers the phone? You guys, you’ve
heard us on the subject of Marjorie? Honey, you know you don’t want
to talk to Marjorie. It’ll make you feel even worse.”
“I don’t want to talk to Marjorie,” Mel said, “But I want to talk to my
“There isn’t a day goes by that Mel doesn’t say he wishes she’d get
married again. Or else die,” Terri said. “For one thing,” Terri said, “she’s
bankrupting us. Mel says it’s just to spite him that she won’t get
married again. She has a boyfriend who lives with her and the kids, so
Mel is supporting the boyfriend too.”
“She’s allergic to bees,” Mel said. “If I’m not praying she’ll get married
again, I’m praying she’ll get herself stung to death by a swarm of
fucking bees.”
“Shame on you,” Laura said.
“Bzzzzzzz,” Mel said, turning his fingers into bees and buzzing them at
Terri’s throat. Then he let his hands drop all the way to his sides.
“She’s vicious,” Mel said “Sometimes I think I’ll go up there dressed like
a beekeeper. You know, that hat that’s like a helmet with the plate that
comes down over your face, the big gloves, and the padded coat? I’ll
knock on the door and let loose a hive of bees in the house. But first I’d
make sure the kids were out, of course.”
He crossed one leg over the other. It seemed to take him a lot of time to
do it. Then he put both feet on the floor and leaned forward, elbows on
the table, his chin cupped in his hands.
“Maybe I won’t call the kids, after all. Maybe it isn’t such a hot idea.
Maybe we’ll just go eat. How does that sound?”
“Sounds fine to me,” I said “Eat or not eat. Or keep drinking. I could
head right on out into the sunset.”
“What does that mean, honey?” Laura said.
“It just means what I said,” I said. “It means I could just keep going.
That’s all it means.”
“I could eat something myself,” Laura said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been
so hungry in my life. Is there something to nibble on?”
“I’ll put out some cheese and crackers,” Terri said.
But Terri just sat there. She did not get up to get anything.
Mel turned his glass over. He spilled it out on the table.
“Gin’s gone,” Mel said.
Terri said, “Now what?”
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 dark.
1. Plot/Structure – Describe the plot of the story. Avoid making comments or interpretations about behavior and actions by the characters, just stick with describing what happens in the story. Are there other stories you know of that is similar to the plot of this story?
Most stories, as we’re familiar with them through movies, have the structure of a beginning, middle, and end. The plot is essentially the action of the story, where one event or action leads to another event or action, which leads in a long string of actions that arrives at a final confrontation. After the final confrontation, there is the resolution and denouement. This story telling structure is embodied through a model known as Freytag’s Pyramid, which maps out a traditional plot like this:
2. Point of View – Who is telling this story, a first person or third person narrator? How would you characterize this narrator?
In any literary work, whether it’s a short story, poem, or novel, the point of view from which a story is told is an important element to keep in mind, because the ‘point of view’ determines who the narrator is, the narrator being the one who’s telling the story. We often assume that it’s the author who is telling the story, but it’s not as simple as that. There are 3 basic types of points of view and an author has to choose which one he or she will use. The 3 types are as follows: first person, second person, third person.
3. Characters – List and describe the primary characters of the story. Focus on specific details about each character, such as certain behaviors and/or things they say.
This is probably the most familiar of all the literary elements and the one we immediately react to when reading any story. The analysis of a character is one of the core activities of most literary interpretation and it’s hard to cover all the ways we go about analyzing a character, most of which you’ll learn to do through consistent practice and engagement with the works we read in this class. In the most general sense, what we look at in a character is their behavior, the actions they take and/or the decisions they make. We look closely at what they say in order to get a sense of their view of a situation, or their view of the world; we also focus on how they interact with other characters, asking ourselves if a certain act or decision has aggressive implications, or was meant well but with unfortunate consequences. These are things to pay attention to, along with what they say through dialogue, which is also revealing about a character. There’s no end to the ways we look and react to characters we’re presented within a story, one reader may love and identify with a certain character that another reader will strongly dislike, even hate, and both would be correct as long as they’re able to present evidence of what the character did, in the form of actions and statements, that supports their reaction.
4. Setting – What did you find unique or interesting about the setting of this story? What caught your attention? How does the setting add to the story?
Where a story is set and the background against which characters are engaged, is an important element to consider when reading works of literature. A story that’s set in a city like San Francisco reveals a very different world from a story that’s set in a small country town like Wilson, Wyoming. When we consider the setting of a story, the information we’re given about the surroundings can imply vastly different moods and attitudes.
5. Imagery – Were there images or symbols in the story that appears repeatedly? Do you think there is any significance or importance to the repeated image?
It’s possible a teacher from a past class once asked you, “What does the ____ symbolize in the story?” and you can fill in the blank with any noun you can think of. Suffice it to say, this very simple question is, more or less, what imagery is about in a literary work. Any image, whether an object or a certain color or even a character’s gesture that gets repeated throughout a story, is a sign that thing/color/gesture has significance. Of course, the question is, as stated above, what do any of these images symbolize? You can offer your thoughts on an image’s meaning based on what you’re able to understand about the story and its other elements. All this will shape what you think a certain object symbolizes.
6. Theme – With regards to the topic of love and relationships, what do you think this story is saying about love and relationships?
The theme of a story, novel, play, or poem is very similar to a thesis statement in an essay. Like a thesis, the theme states the story’s intended message or point, because every story we read has some purpose to it and it’s that purpose we, as readers, have to articulate. Of course, a big difference here is that while thesis statements are clearly stated in an essay we read, the theme in a story is always implied, so you have to puzzle out what that theme is based on what you’ve read. To help you as you try to establish the theme of a literary work, here are two things to ask yourself: 1) what is the main topic of the story and 2) what is the story saying about that topic? With the first question, the kinds of topics that get covered in literary works vary and can run the gamut from the role of technology in our lives to the true definition of love.

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