Discussion of Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love"

 Post your answer in the comments below. Make sure to include the number of the question you're answering and either cut and paste the question or answer in complete sentences so that we know which question you're answering.


A-7, B-8, C-9, D-10, E-11, F-12, G-13, H-1, I-2, J-3, K-4, L-5, M-6

If you have further thoughts or questions about the story, please feel to also post these below. 

13 Questions To Ask of Every Story: 

1.          What makes this story “literary”? 

 

2.          Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

 

3.          Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

 

4.          Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

 

5.          Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

 

6.          Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

 

7.          Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

 

8.          Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

 

9.          Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?

 

10.      Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

 

11.      Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

 

12.      What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it? 


13.    How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

Comments

  1. 3. Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

    A: I think this story is "successful" in the sense that it excels in creating tension. You're on pins and needles the whole time waiting to see if Mel or Terri will erupt on one another, especially as Mel gets drunker and more vocal. While ultimately this story is basically just about four friends drinking and having a conversation, you feel a tension build as the conversation progresses. This tension is created through the passive aggressive language between Mel and Terri, but also in a more subtle way through the prolonged and haphazard stories Mel tells.

    -Alec


    -Alec

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    1. I agree. The way this quiet story builds the tension is so intense.

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  2. 11. Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?
    From what I could find, Raymond Carver's style of writing is called "dirty realism" which means that he wrote about the more mundane aspects of life. I think this story is the perfect example of that because it shows two married couples just drinking and having fun while talking about what love actually means. Dirty realism also means allowing objects and context to dictate meaning and not relying on stuff like metaphors or symbolism to tell a story. In my opinion, this story is as straightforward as a story can get.
    I think Carver is writing from experiance with this story because by the time this story came out, he was already divorced and married to his second wife.
    -Michael

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    1. Dirty realism has always seemed like a strange term to me, because I think realism is dirty enough, thanks. But I like the notion of letting objects and context be what carries the meaning, instead of the writer spoon-feeding it to the reader directly.

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  3. 9. Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?

    The setting is Mel and Terri’s kitchen and this works within the story because it allows for a more relaxed, intimate space for the conversations. They are discussing personal topics that wouldn’t necessarily be talked about if they were in a public area. There is a large window in this kitchen which is used to describe the weather and the world around them: “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” and “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”. By describing the weather outside it hints at the mood of the conversation and what is happening inside.

    -Bailey

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    1. Yes, the tone of the story is affected by the description of the weather, but it's not an exact correlation of it. I do like the way, as the day becomes darker, so does the story.

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  4. Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

    There is very little to this story that doesn’t show character. I think the most prevalent aspect is each person’s view on love: from Terri’s romanticization of abuse to Mel’s cynicism to Laura and Nick’s more optimistic views, the characters’ views on love tell us both about their past and their perspective. Conversely, their past tells us about why they view love the way they do. Terri romanticizes abuse to survive. She lived so long under Ed’s thumb (even after leaving him) where her safety was threatened that she came to view it as a form of love. Ed’s abuse transformed into a sign of his dedication and passion, because how else could she cope with the brutality and terror she suffered at the hands of someone she loved? Mel never loved Ed, so his experiences being terrorized with the man are tinged with a more cynical view (and that is not a bad thing, the guy threatened to kill both of them), especially given his own failed relationship with his first wife, who he hates. Nick and Laura act more as observers in this piece, but given Mel’s insistence that love is painful outside of physical attraction and sentimentality (which again, given he and Terri’s experiences with the dangers of sentimentality isn’t entirely unfounded), it implies the two of them are more optimistic than Mel when it comes to love. On top of the discussions of love, there’s the characters’ relationships with drinking. While Nick, Laura and Terri seem to be more casual, social drinkers, Mel pushes them to drink, and to finish off the bottle of cheap gin. Given Mel’s growing belligerence as he continues to drink, Terri’s resigned, nonconfrontational attempts at de-escalation and Nick and Laura’s seeming lack of surprise, it seems to imply Mel drinking and growing confrontational is nothing new. It brings up the question of whether or not Terri and his relationship is healthy, or if Terri traded one form of abuse for another.

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    1. Yes, I think it definitely leas us to the conclusion, by the end, that Mel is abusive in much the same way that Terri's ex was.

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  5. 13. How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

    A lot of the literary stories we read are dialogue heavy and have a slow gradual plot that develops as the story goes on, and this story is no different. The narrator Nick is the only break we get from the dialogue when he decides to describe the setting through the sun and the gin refills. The story also discusses relationships and shows different types of character couples and relationships which I feel like is often talked about or used in other stories. The characters are definitely the focal point and their discussion of love and what it means to all of them. They drive the story and we see little character development other than Mel getting drunker and more aggressive. This story has a lot of the similar qualities other stories we've read and I think that's what makes it a literary story like the others.

    -Taylor

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    1. I agree with the similarities to the others we've read, in terms of what makes them literary. Is there one or two stories that we've read before that this story is most similar to?

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  6. 7. In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

    In what way doesn't this story revolve around it's characters. It is each of the ways that they experience love. The small things, the bigger things, the ways you look at who you loved and how they changed you. Mel and Terri are the best examples of this to me, because in the beginning they love each other. But there is something keeping it from being fully...connected? Especially when it devolves into Mel wanting his ex-wife back but also hating her so much he can't stand it. And with how Terri is just a replacement to her. It's an incredible look at how connection can be perverted.

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    1. I hadn't thought about how Terri is just a replacement to Mel's ex, but that's so true! That makes it even more ominous at the end, I think.

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  7. 1. What makes this story “literary”?

    To start out, this piece of work is incredibly detailed. I think that the story is literary largely due to its specificity. One line in the introduction really showcases this: "We lived in Albuquerque then. But we were all from somewhere else." Carver then gives the reader little glimpses of background throughout the rest of the story. An example of this is when Mel mentions that he and Terri were living in California when they were still being bothered by her ex-husband. Another aspect of this story overall includes how there is no sense of rushedness. This is very much a relaxed social gathering, and Carver details every pause and every reaction. Carver writes about Nick and Laura as Mel pours more gin. "We waited and sipped our drinks." This is a simple sentence that might seem boring or unnecessary, but it adds so much to the character of the story overall. Additionally, although this story is fictitious, the struggle it portrays is real and relatable. Carver makes several acute observations regarding love, and reading this story made me really think about what Mel was getting at. Even though the story is largely centered around Nick's observations of Mel, it is clear that everyone is struggling with something in their life. The portrayal of it all in a capsule of understandable art is what makes it literary.

    - Elizabeth S.

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    1. Agreed. That last sentence you wrote, in particular, nails it. I love the term "capsule of understandable art."

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  8. 4. Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

    I feel like the conflict of this story comes from Mel and Terri's interactions. Starting with Terri talking about her ex and how he was abusive, but claims that he loved her. Mel is frustrated by this and would repeatedly disagree and say it wasn't love. The tension increases as the conversation continues and Terri recalls how she was by Ed when he died.
    When Mel recalls the story about the old couple we start to see more cracks in Mel's and Terri's relationship. With him getting mad at her for making a joke and claiming that he would be with Laura if the Nick wasn't his friend, and Terri wasn't around. As well Terri would say things about how the Nick and Laura were still in a honeymoon phase in their relationship. Alluding to the fact the two of them are going through a rough patch.
    The conflict between the two of them ends up souring the casual hang out and everyone sits around feeling sad and awkward.

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    1. Yes, this is a story in which the conflict is quiet clear early on, and only builds and builds.

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  9. 12. What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it?

    I think what we can take away as reader of this story can be found in the title; what are we talking about when we discuss love. The entire plot is just two couples talking about the meaning of love. Over the discussion, many examples of love are brought up, but no one can prove which is the real one. It is a tricky word to define, since we use it to express romantic interest in a person, or to say that we care for our children, or heck, even "I love pizza". Likewise, the characters have a hard time deciding what love is. Is it the crazy boyfriend that abuse Terri and killed himself? His emotions do originate, however perversely, from love, even if other factors twisted it into something horrible. Is it the newlywed phase of the narrator, or the established relationship between Mel and Terri. Even though the story of the old couple is the purest form of love we see in the narrative, it still isn't the true, all-encompassing definition of love. Ultimately, the story is saying love is just as confused and muddled as this conversation. It changes from person to person, or one person's thoughts about it can change as time goes on. For instance, Mel says abuse isn't love only a page or so before he tells Terri to shut up. As the title mentions, we will always discuss love, but the answer will always remain elusive, like how the character's conversation stalls out.
    As writer's there is a lot to learn. Carver is a master of realism, which is what makes this discussion about love feel so lived in. The way he achieves it in this story is through dialogue, which is mainly how the whole plot is told. His techniques to make the dialogue feel really are amazing. For one, he uses repetition to give a flow and musicality to the conversation, such as when Terri says, "But he loved me. In his own way, maybe, but he loved me. There was love there.” It has a certain ring to it that makes it sound real. I also like the way the characters go off on tangents, just as real people do. Everything about this story makes it feel like a slice of life.

    -Logan Ostler

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    1. I like that you call out how he uses repetition to create a kind of musicality to the prose. There's so much to learn from Carver. He really is a master.

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  10. 8. Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

    This particular piece showcased a first person perspective that's distanced from a prominent side character in multiple facets. The storyteller here is the couple opposite of Nick (the perspective the audience shares) and Laura: Mel and Teresa/Terri. Their combined experiences from both backgrounds helps weave in to reinforce the messages of their stories: love is fickle. To hone in on anything more specific would disgrace the varied perspectives that Mel's professional background and Terri's traumatic incident would indicate. From the viewpoint of Nick and Laura, being newly wed, they're still comparatively fresh, and perhaps most prominent is the way that Mel and Terri act as they go back and forth, a natural give and take. Nick and Laura's love is still ginger, still fresh; broken in isn't the most fitting phrase, but it's one that can fittingly describe the contrast in wisdom.

    - Tomio

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    1. I've always liked this particular point of view: first person as largely an observer. It gives the story a personal connection but also establishes some crucial distance.

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  11. 5. Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

    The conflict leading to the climax of the story occurs because Terri believes that her ex-boyfriend, Ed, loved her despite his abusive tendencies. She rationalizes that Ed loved her because he was willing to die for her, which he did. Mel strongly disagrees with his wife’s example of love and offers his own about the couple in their seventies who survive and recover from a car accident together. The dialogue between Mel and Terri creates and escalates the tension because they can’t seem to come to a consensus on what constitutes love and continue to want to prove each other wrong. The climax of the story is when Mel tells the end of his story. Mel tells the others that the husband grew depressed in the hospital because his casts prevented him from turning his head to see his wife. I think the climax is somewhat subtle; it’s not something that is physically happening to the characters but is something that they are being told. I think it’s the climax because the story’s ending contrasts extensively with Terri’s, and shows that Mel and Terri, even though they are married, have very different ideas of what love is.

    -Sam W.

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    1. I like that point as the climax--the end of Mel's story. I think I would pick the moment he admits to wanting to kill his ex with bees, as the moment of highest tension, but I can see how the ending of Mel's story brings that next revelation about.

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