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Raymond Carver

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Kristen Clanton

on 6 April 2016

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Transcript of Raymond Carver

On Writing: “Some writers have a bunch of talent; I don’t know any writers who are without it. But a unique and exact way of looking at things, and finding the right context for expressing that way of looking, that’s something else. […] Every great or even every very good writer makes the world over according to his own specifications. It’s akin to style, what I’m talking about, but it isn’t style alone. It is the writer’s particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There’s plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time. […] He’ll bring his intelligence and literary skills to bear (his talent), his sense of proportion and sense of the fitness of things—like no one else uses them. And this is done through the use of clear and specific language, language used so as to bring to life the details that will light up the story for the reader. For the details to be concrete and convey meaning, the language must be accurate and precisely given. The words can be so precise they may even sound flat, but they still carry; if used right, they can hit all the notes.”
Raymond Carver is a modern American short story writer and poet who is most famous for his stories that depict the negative aspects of suburban, middle class life in the United States. His stories also focus on the personal detriment of individuals in pursuit of the American Dream; this theme extends to America's love affair with inanimate objects and our absolute desire to surround ourselves with objects as if they create our meaning. The phrase "Keeping up with the Jones" was also popular at this time.
Background
Carver and Symbolism
The meaning of Carver’s stories are revealed in subtle layers, often through symbolism. Carver liked to focus on down-and-out, blue-collar, middle-class people facing bleak truths, disappointments, and small revelations in their ordinary lives, all subject matter that places him firmly in the “dirty realism” school of writing.

SYMBOLISM is the “practice of representing things with symbols.” Attested from 1892 as a movement in French literature aimed at representing ideas and emotions by indirect suggestion rather than direct expression; rejecting realism and naturalism, it is attached to symbolic meaning to certain objects, words, etc. French symbolist was coined by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) in 1885.

"Neighbors"
Method
Carver was a
minimalist
that constructed meaning in his work through DRAMATICALLY IMPACTED BREVITY.

MINIMALISM: Where the work is only the bare bones—stripped down to its most fundamental features. EVERY WORD IS SIGNIFICANT; every words bears weight. ALSO HAS A STRONG FOCUS ON SURFACE DESCRIPTION and allows context to dictate meaning. Reader has to take an active role and INFER parts of the story rather than being led by the author.

INFERENCE: logical conclusion or deduction.
a. the process of deriving the strict logical consequences of
assumed premises.
b. The process of arriving at some conclusion that, though it is
not logically derivable from the assumed premises possesses
some degree of probability relative to the premises.

MINIMALISM AS A MODE OF FICTION is “The gradual accretion of meaningful detail, the concrete word as opposed to the abstract, “arbitrary or slippery word.” (this is the Anderson-Hemingway tradition).

HEMINGWAY’S ICEBERG THEORY or the theory of omission. The facts float above the water. The supporting structure and symbolism operate out-of-sight.

(1938-1988)
American short story writer and poet.
Raymond Carver
Carver has often been criticized for focusing on the American Dream when so many instrumental issues were at the forefront in 1960s America. However, when discussing the relevance of Carver's work, great American author, Joyce Carol Oates said, “America is surely not the only culture in which a passion for material things has been elevated to romance, but it is surely one of the few cultures to have so thoroughly examined this romance.”
The tone of Carver's short story is very fact-driven and straightforward. The narrator of “Neighbors" does not offer opinions on his characters, but he merely states their actions in an unbiased way. He does not used large words or complicated imagery to convey the story; furthermore, he instead chooses to relate much as one might tell a story about a mundane occurrence that happens in day-to-day life. In short, the tone is distanced and rather impersonal. The unbiased and straightforward tone is complimented by the style. The style of “Neighbors” is clipped and not weighed down with extra details. The narrator does not change the point of view and stays with Bill the duration of his journey throughout the story. Maintaining a limited point of view throughout the story builds tension between Bill and Arlene Miller, their marriage, and their individual jealousies of Jim and Harriet Stone, which translates to the audiences' understanding.


The Millers had grown weary of their lives and often felt jealous of their neighbors, Jim and Harriet Stone, who they felt lived a happier and more exciting life than they. In the story, the Millers eventually become so disgusted with their own lives, that fantasizing is no longer enough, and they begin to emulate the life of the Stones in every way they can, until they can no longer see returning to their own lives as bearable.
"Bill and Arlene Miller were a happy couple."
Foreshadowing in "Neighbors"
A foreshadow is a warning or indication of a future event.

In the beginning of the story, Carver writes, "But now and then they alone among their circle had been passed by somehow, leaving Bill to attend to his bookkeeping duties and Arlene occupied with secretarial chores. [...] Jim was a salesman for a machine-parts firm and often managed to combine business with pleasure trips."

What does this foreshadow?

What other components of the story foreshadow future events?
By: Kristen Clanton
University of Nebraska Omaha

Questions on "Neighbors"
1. What is "Neighbors" arguing against? Support your idea with 3 points from the story.
2. Who is the speaker?
3. What parts of the story have to be INFERRED?
4. Why do you think Bill dresses up as Jim and Harriet?
5. What is the meaning of the end of the story when Carver writes, "They stayed there. They held each other. They leaned into the door as if against a wind, and braced themselves."
"Cathedral"
Then something occurred to me, and I said, "Something has occurred to me. Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they're talking about? Do you know the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?"
The Origin of "Cathedral" by Tom Jenks
Raymond Carver was married to poet Tess Gallagher. Tess was the wife in the story and the blind man was a friend that Tess had once worked with, whom had come to visit. Ray was mildly jealous with his blindness and his familiarity with Tess. That evening, Tess had fallen asleep when the program about cathedrals came on, and that is when Ray drew the cathedral for the blind man, with the blind man’s hand over his own.

Tess also wrote a story about the blind man coming to visit, and titled it “The Harvest,” though later titled “Rain Flooding Your Campfire.”
The narrator and narrator’s wife are unnamed, only the blind man, Robert is named. Written from the first person past tense, this lack of naming makes the story feel as if it is being told to someone in which the narrator is familiar with. This too is amplified by the language and descriptions.
"I can remember I didn't think much of the poem. Of course, I didn't tell her that. Maybe I just don't understand poetry. I admit, it's not the first thing I reach for when I pick up something to read."
Then he said, "I think that's it. I think you got it," he said. "Take a look. What do you think?"
But I had my eyes closed. I thought I'd keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do.
"Well?" he said. "Are you looking?"
My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn't feel like I was inside anything.
"It's really something," I said.
Robert is not a magical being in any way, but the effect this interaction has on the narrator is almost mystical because their interaction alters the narrator’s reality and perceptions. Robert completely alters the narrator’s consciousness.
Who is the narrator of "Cathedral"?
Themes in "Cathedral"
In contemporary literary studies, a theme is the central topic a text treats. Themes can be divided into two categories: a work's thematic concept is what readers "think the work is about" and its thematic statement being "what the work says about the subject".
What are some
themes in
"Cathedral"?
Themes in "Cathedral"
The difference between looking and seeing.
Art as insight:
The narrator, his wife, and Robert find insight and meaning in their experiences through poetry, drawing, and storytelling. According to the narrator, his wife writes a couple of poems every year to mark events that were important in her life, including the time Robert touched her face. The narrator doesn’t like the poems but admits that he might not understand them. The narrator gains insight into his own life when he draws a picture of a cathedral with Robert, realizing for the first time that looking inward is a way to gain greater knowledge and a deeper understanding of himself. Robert, too, gleans insight from the drawing. Although it’s unlikely that he was able to visualize what the narrator drew, he shares the experience of the narrator’s awakening. The narrator’s mere act of retelling the story of his epiphany helps him make sense of his new found understanding. Even though his narrative is choppy and rough and he frequently interrupts himself to make a defensive comment or snide remark, he gets the story out, passing along some of his insight to us. The narrator doesn’t fully understand what happened when he closed his eyes and drew the cathedral, but he knows that it was an important experience.
Symbols in "Cathedral"
Symbolism is defined as the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities.
The cathedral represents true sight.
The audiotapes represent sympathy and understanding.
What are some other symbols
implemented in "Cathedral"?
Optimism and the Zero Ending
A zero ending is defined as an ending that does not neatly tie up the strands of a story. It may not even seem like an ending—in some cases, the writer may seem to have left off in the middle of a thought or idea.
Carver finishes “Cathedral” with a “zero ending,” leaving the narrator with his eyes closed, imagining the cathedral he has just drawn with Robert. Instead of tacking on a florid conclusion that leaves everyone satisfied, Carver often stops his stories abruptly, at the moment when his characters are faced with a stark realization, glimmer of hope, or wall of confusion.
Ernest Hemingway used the zero ending in many of his short stories as well. Also like Hemingway, Carver wrote in a sparse, masculine style, and this, along with his favored method of ending a story, has prompted many readers to compare the two writers.
The abrupt ending to the story leaves many questions unanswered, such as how exactly the narrator has changed, if his relationship with his wife will change, or how his opinion of Robert has changed. But the answers to these questions are not the point of the story. “Cathedral” concerns the change in one man’s understanding of himself and the world, and Carver ends the story at exactly the moment when this change flickers in the narrator’s mind. The narrator has not become a new person or achieved any kind of soul-changing enlightenment. In fact, the narrator’s final words, “It’s really something,” reveal him to be the same curt, inarticulate man he’s always been.
The zero ending,however , adds an unexpected note of optimism to the story. Until this moment, the narrator has been mostly bitter and sarcastic, but he has now gained a deeper understanding of himself and his life. Far from leaving us unsatisfied, Carver’s zero ending leaves us with our breath held as the narrator sees a new world start to crack open.
Looking for Raymond Carver
by A.O. Scott
“The blind man proposes that they draw the cathedral instead, and they do—the narrator’s eyes closed, the blind man’s hands guiding his. The narrator undergoes an epiphany: “It was like nothing else in my life up to now.” The reader is left out: the men’s shared experience, visual and tactile, is beyond the reach of words. But frustrating vicariousness of the story is also the source of its power. Art, according to Carver, is a matter of the blind leading the tongue-tied. Carver was an artist of a rare and valuable kind; he told simple stories, and made it look hard.”
“A writer found what he wanted to say in the ongoing process of seeing what he’d said. And this seeing, or seeing more clearly, came about through revision.”
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