Themes In Carver Essay, Research Paper
John W Mcgall
Lit To Film
In Short Cuts, by Raymond Carver, characters experience trials and problems in their lives, whether extreme such as in “ A Small, Good Thing” and “Lemonade” or nominal such as in “ Vitamins”. They all seem to depict these struggles as uphill battles which the characters cannot and mostly do not overcome. The characters throughout Carver’s “Short Cuts” struggle through their lives in private desperation, often to ultimately realize that they are bound to the truth of who they really are, which is shown in the story “Neighbors.”
In “Neighbors”, Bill and Arlene Miller are a couple with menial jobs who give credence to the saying “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence”. They are dissatisfied with their own lives and look to the lives of their neighbors to find happiness in their own. Once a happy couple, they often feel that “they alone among their circle had been passed by somehow (13).” They did not discuss how they could change their own lives, but merely compared their lives with the Stones. “They talked about it sometimes, mostly in comparison with the lives of their neighbors (13).” The Millers thought that the “ Stones lived a fuller and brighter life(13).”
Bill especially feels envious of his neighbors as Jim Stone has a good job that allows him and his wife to travel in conjunction with his work. “ Well, I wish it was us (14), ” Jim says as he waves goodbye to his neighbors on their way to another vacation.
The Miller are asked to house sit for their neighbors. The each go into the apartment separately, trying to uncover some aspect of the Stone’s lives, keeping it a secret from the other what they are doing. It is ultimately realized at the end that they are both doing more than feeding the cat when they go into the apartment.
The Miller’s searching through their neighbor’s apartment is symbolic of their search for meaning in their own lives. Because they are not satisfied with the way they live, they project the Stones life onto their own, to the extent of pretending to live in their apartment, if only for one moment.
Bill’s fantasy of being like the Stone’s may be shown by his actions of taking a bottle of Harriet’s pills (14), and drinking and eating their food, with no qualms of invade his neighbors privacy (16). On page 15, Bill ““had the feeling that he left something” as he was closing the door to the Stone’s apartment. It is likely that he felt he was leaving behind the false persona of who and how he wanted to live like.
After more frequent trips into the Stone’s apartment, Bill begins to wear their clothing, which is also symbolic of trying to put on their lives like a costume, as if wearing their clothes will make him like them. Throughout these covert trips, he tries to keep his real activities hidden from his wife by making excuses to her.
At the end of the story, Arlene reveals that she too has been going through the Stone’s properties. “ I guess I should tell you. I found some pictures (19) .” After this, there seems to be a mutual understanding of what they each have done and they decide to go back into the apartment together, almost as if to affirm they both want to live their lives as the Stones.
“ Maybe they won’t come back (19).” Arlene says hopefully implying that she would want to take over their apartment. When they realize that they have locked themselves out of the Stone’s apartment, Bill tells her not to worry.
“They stayed there. They held each other. They leaned into the door as if against a wind and braced themselves (19).” This shows how the have given up and accepted the fate as not being like the Stones. Instead of breaking down the door and returning to the false comfort of the Stone’s apartment, they merely braced “as if against a wind”, conjuring up images of two people caught in a storm shielding each other from harm.
Throughout the story, the Millers try to find the greener grass by exploring and being in the Stone’s apartment, who they envy. In the end they realize that they will not be magically turn into the Stones and accept their fate as do many of Carver’s characters in Short Cuts.
carver, raymond…short cuts (the edition with forward by Altman)