At every point in the story, Carver parodies some aspect of Hemingway. In this parody, in which the woman is powerful and the man is degraded to an animal, Carver ridicules at once heroism, male sports, and stereotypical gender roles. The story has a symbolic, almost mythic character, as the men and women seem types in a ritual drama. In it, a brother and sister have an incestuous relationship, and the brother kills their baby The sister retaliates by bringing disease into the world. With the exception of Hemingway, Carver quickly left early influences behind.
While Hemingway was preoccupied with war in Europe, Carver portrays the everyday battles that take place on the real home front: in domestic realms of America. Such violence is quite frequently recorded in literature and other arts before it reaches public discourse, and realist literature is a particularly well-focused medium that is sensitive to such a world. Both de Lauretis and Hendin agree that representations of women and violence are almost always linked to the relational.
Violence committed against women as well as their own retaliatory violence are thus phenomena that grow out of specific social contexts, those of intimate and family life structures. After his formative years, Carver turned his attentions precisely to the depiction of marriage and of family life in America. In many cases, women are portrayed as the perpetrators of violence, and the frequency with which they smash items, hit or slap their family members suggests that their actions are both retaliatory and communicative within the context of officially unaccounted for, yet fictionally recorded domestic violence.
There are small, violent episodes scattered through the collection and they all have in common a communicative aspect.
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In three stories, frustrated women resort to violence when talk and other measures do not improve their life situations. At one point in the story, the mother relates to the son her worry that the father is trying to break up the family. In the final scene, the boy finds his parents screaming at each other in the kitchen. Stop it! When abusive mothers are portrayed in literature, Hendin has argued, they present a challenge to conventional notions of feminine behavior, stereotypes that would have us believe that women are inherently nurturing and passive. The couple are going bankrupt, and the story suggests that she ends up prostituting herself by selling her car and her body in order for the family to gain access to cash.
She tears loose, grabs and tears his undershirt at the neck. In two other stories where men have violent outbursts while a woman witnesses or is the victim, there is, on the contrary, a sense of resolution and closure.
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Hamilton then takes his son home, where his wife expresses her disapproval of the fight, yet the father and son have a moment of emotional connection over the episode at bedtime the same night. The violence establishes a masculine bond between father and son, a closeness the mother does not share. She takes the initiative of bringing up an episode that had happened a few years earlier, when the couple attended a drunken party, and Ralph had beaten her when he suspected she had sex with another man, something she denied at the time:.
Ralph later recalls some of the bloody details of battering his wife, which he fuses with imagining her and the other man:. Then Marian lifting her dress as she arched back!
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It is especially when words fail that characters resort to gestures as a means of connecting with their surroundings. In three stories of this collection, as we have seen above, women vent their emotional frustration and humiliation by using violent gestures: one woman smashes a frying pan, while another slaps her children and a third attacks her husband.
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The motifs of change and transformation link all of the stories containing violent scenes in Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? However, it is only in the stories where men commit violent acts that there is any sense of reconciliation between characters. Carver did not return to communication and reconciliation as major themes again until his later work. Though Carver moved quickly beyond the minimalist aesthetic of this volume in his next works, the treatment of women and violence bears the characteristic traits of this movement.
Carver made massive cuts to the stories in this volume while preparing it for publication 5 , replacing some violent episodes with ellipsis, and leaving much to suggestion.
In the title story of What We Talk About When We talk About Love, two couples get drunk while discussing the nature of love, and debate, among things, whether a husband who beats his wife then kills himself can really feel love for her. The fusing of the themes of sex, love and violence reaches no conclusive resolution, as the gin runs out and the lights dim on the characters. This story sets the tone for a collection in which people commit sudden acts of violence that are more extreme than in the previous volume, yet less contextualized and sometimes seemingly random.
Coffee and Mr. The women in these cases resort to more extreme measures than in the earlier fiction, though some of the stories are so reduced as to seem like vignettes. Domestic violence is thus taken to new levels in this volume, at the same time as character development is kept at a minimum. The protagonist Bill and his friend Jerry decide to take a Sunday afternoon off from their families.
On their way driving home, the men encounter two women biking, and later follow the women onto a hiking trail. This random act of violence is shorn of any cause-and-effect explanation. Almost immediately after the publication of this minimalist collection, Carver began revising and expanding several of its stories for inclusion in later volumes.
Overall, however, the violent scenes involving women in the later stories are similar to those in the earlier ones, yet with the significant difference that women achieve a degree of control in changing their lives. Women who are caught up in frustrating lives are not portrayed as victims of those situations. The couple make up at the end of the story, which is the beginning of a new year. The violence in Cathedral thus shows women engaging in outbursts that seem necessary catalysts to move from one phase of life to another.
He stretched out on the ground, weeping…. The woman then moves on with her life, and the rest of the story is a portrayal of the passengers she encounters in the waiting room and on the train. By putting these words in the mouth of the officer, Carver shows an awareness of the ubiquitous menace of domestic violence in contemporary America, and stories from this period show how women do not accept the status of victim.
Hendin has analyzed how both verbal skills and physical retaliation are methods frequently used by women in their fighting back against a system which they transform in the process. These stories depict such strong women who take their lives in their own hands, making both men and the general public aware that they do not acquiesce to playing the role of the weaker sex. The whole neighborhood is gathered on her lawn as firefighters carry out the dead children. As I hope to show, however, Carver expanded it into one of his most complex stories about gender and violence.
It is narrated by a woman, Claire, who is the wife of one of the men who discover the corpse. The Green River Killer case was not solved until , though the 49 or more murders of young women took place two decades earlier, between and 7. The perpetrator, Gary Leon Ridgway, sexually molested and killed his victims, in most cases leaving their naked bodies in or near the Green River south of the Seattle-Tacoma area of Washington State.
In the longer version, which is the focus of this discussion, we see Claire struggling to make sense of her life in the context of this triple level of menace, and Carver contextualizes this as specifically gendered and linked to the positions of men and women in his contemporary society. Carver applies the techniques of juxtaposition and suggestion he had honed in his minimalist phase, at the same time as he adds depth to character exploration. The next morning, Saturday, they cooked breakfast, drank lots of coffee, more whisky, and then split up to fish, two men upriver, two men down.
That night, after they had cooked their fish and potatoes and had more coffee and whisky, they took their dishes down to the river and rinsed them off a few yards from where the body lay in the water. Stuart then drives home to Claire, but does not tell her of the find until the next morning, as he is eager to have sex and sleep. In his revisions Carver includes passages that make clear how Claire is disturbed by the fact that Stuart had wanted sex the same day as he left the corpse, as well as every day after.
This does not elicit any immediate response from Stuart, though he tries throughout the story to prevent his wife from internalizing the drama of the dead young woman. At one point in the story Claire remembers a specific case from her Northwest youth that resembles the current find and she infuriates Stuart when she shares it:. They killed a girl…cut off her head and threw it in the Cle Elum River. She and I went to high school together. It happened when I was a girl. In the longer version, her journey is expanded to include more detailed episodes of menace to Claire. She is on a long stretch of mountain highway alone, bordering the Naches River, when a green truck with a male driver starts trailing her.
When she slows to let him pass, he stays behind her, but finally does pass, tooting his horn and waving at her. Shaken by the episode, she pulls over and parks, but he comes back, and tries to force her car open:. He looks at my breasts and legs. The skirt has pulled up over my knees. His eyes linger on my legs, but I sit still, afraid to move.
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