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Sexism and Alcohol in Raymond Carver’s Short Stories

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Everyone thinks they know what the word “love” actually means but does he or she? In “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” Raymond Carver tells a story of four people’s different descriptions of love and how their drinking affects their feelings about love. Raymond Carver drank a lot, was married twice, and had two kids. Some may believe he was an alcoholic considering he had a hard time keeping it together and falling into the trap of drinking. Though he gave up drinking, Carver picked up another habit of smoking and then got lung cancer and died at age fifty. Carver lived a life with two different “loves” and also a history of drinking that had an effect on him.

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Mel, Terri, Laura and Nick all have different thoughts and feelings about love but yet they begin to drink and get distracted and never get to their point. Carver shows us two things: people think of love differently and drinking can change beliefs real quick. After sitting around, hanging out, and drinking Mel, Terri, Laura and Nick begin to talk. They begin to talk about love. Each of them gives their own experiences and their own definitions of love. The cups continue to get refilled and they begin to get drunk. The more drinks they drink, the more distracted they become throughout the night. The story ends with no point to love exactly.

Carver begins with Terri’s definition and experience of her first love, Ed. Carver writes, “Terri said the man she lived with before Mel loved her so much he tried to kill her” (349). Although we may disagree with this idea of “love,” Carver shows us that there are people in the world who have different viewpoints. However, the symbolism of sexism is shown here with Terri’s description. Carver expresses Terri’s experience of love through a brutal treatment including beatings, threats to kill her, and mental abuse. Carver writes that Terri said, “Okay. But he loved me. In his own way maybe, but he loved me. There was love there, Mel. Don’t say there wasn’t” (349). Carver is indicating that when women think they have fallen in love, they try their hardest to make it love. However, in some cases the love is not there or the person does not know how to show it.

In contrast to Terri’s description of love, her husband Mel has an opposing idea of love. Mel starts giving his input and disagreeing with Terri as she is speaking of her experience. Carver writes Mel quoting, “I just wouldn’t call Ed’s behavior love. That’s all I’m saying, honey” (349). Carver starts to give a softer side to the story with Mel having a romantic side. Mel tells a story of working one night; he is a cardiologist. Mel expresses the love of an old couple who got in a fatal car accident leaving the wife with a fifty fifty chance to live. Carver quotes Mel, “ He said that was what was making him feel so bad. Can you imagine? I’m telling you, the man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his goddamn head and see his goddamn wife” (355). Carver shows Mel shocked during this story. Mel could not believe that the old man was heart broken due to the fact that he could not look at his wife. Carver shows us this piece of symbolism because Mel talks about nobody knowing love and understand love but yet insists this old couple knows the real meaning. With this story, Carver makes the character Mel believe he witnessed true love. But does Mel know true love? Carver also informs us of Mel’s former marriage with Majorie and how they despise each other now. Carver writes Mel saying “If I’m not praying she’ll get married again, I’m praying she’ll get stung to death by a swarm of fucking bees” (356). Carver did not inform us what happened to the love between Majorie and Mel, however we do know that something must of happened. Carver also quotes Mel saying, “She’s vicious” (356). This leads us to believe she drove Mel crazy. Carver shows us that Mel had a variety of different oppositions of love leading us to believe that some of these crazy things might have been some experiences in Carver’s life.

All this talk about love changes throughout the story when Carver integrates alcohol with the characters. From the very beginning Carver gave the characters some gin and tonic water to drink during small talk. Why? Because Carver was an alcoholic we see this as a symbol. Carver stopped drinking but always had a hard time staying away from the “intense thrive” of alcohol. Alcohol can mess up your judgment, memory, and many other things sometimes leading it to bad consequences. However, in this story Carver just has the characters talking, rambling, and disagreeing about love. The characters never actually reach a point, but why? Carver is showing us that alcohol affects the way you think and act. These characters continued to drink and ended up sounding dumb. At the end of the story Carver quotes the narrator, “I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went back” (356). The characters were drunk and were just sitting there thinking about the night that just went on. Not only did they get off topic a lot, but they also ended up silent not moving at the end. This symbolism of alcohol is definitely affected by Carver’s alcoholism because he believed at the end of his life that drinking leads to bad and awkward situations.

Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” shows not only how sexism can affect different opinions of love, but alcohol can do the same. Men and women can believe in different types of love and also act differently. Sometimes women and men can make love be between two people whether it is there or not. Other times love is there and is going strong, but that does not mean it can be lost. Also, alcohol can affect anyone, anything at any time and any place. Alcohol can change someone and their judgment real quick. Many people deny this, but some people realize it and make some changes in their life.

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