This sample Raymond Carver Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Raymond Carver’s literary career helped shape the direction of contemporary American short fiction. His stark, terse narratives of understated despair have been influential in reviving interest in the short story. His obsessions (Carver disapproved of the word ”themes”) included male-female relationships, confronting loss, and survival.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
An Average Childhood
Born in Clatskanie, Oregon, on May 25, 1938, Raymond Carver was three when his parents moved with him to Yakima, Washington, a working-class town in the eastern part of the state, where his father worked in a sawmill. Carver often described his childhood and adolescence as average. His father was a storyteller, embellishing tales about the Civil War and about riding the rails west. Occasionally, Carver would happen upon his father reading works by Zane Grey. Apart from serialized westerns, the young Carver read books by Edgar Rice Burroughs and magazines such as Outdoor Life and Sports Afield. He associated the act of reading with his father and was drawn to that introspective stance; he also associated alcohol with his father, who often would spend his weekend nights away from home with friends from the mill.
Various Jobs and Schools
Married in 1957 and the father of two children before he reached the age of twenty, Carver worked sundry menial jobs and frequently moved with his wife and children between small towns in the Pacific Northwest. In 1958, Carver located in Paradise, California, where he attended Chico State College while working at night. The following year he began studying creative writing under John Gardner—a then unknown novelist—who taught Carver the importance of craft and integrity in writing. At Chico State, Carver founded the literary magazine Selection, in which he published his first short story, ”The Furious Seasons,” a Faulknerian tale written in a stream-of-consciousness style unlike any of his subsequent writings.
In 1960, Carver moved to Arcata, California, and began attending classes at Humboldt State College, where he published stories in the school literary magazine, Toyon. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1963, and later that year accepted a grant to study at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop; however, he wrote very little there and failed to complete the graduate pro gram. He returned to California, working at various jobs and publishing only one story between 1965 and 1970, ”Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” which was selected for Best American Short Stories in 1967. That same year, Carver secured a white-collar job at a textbook publishing company, a position from which he was fired in 1970 after a company reorganization. Unemployment proved beneficial to Carver as he subsequently received income through severance pay and unemployment benefits, and was afforded sufficient time to write.
Success as a Short-Story Writer
In 1976, Carver published his first collection of short stories, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, which was nominated for a National Book Award. Despite Carver’s growing popular and critical success in the 1970s, his personal life was in turmoil due to his alcoholism and martial difficulties. In 1977, Carver stopped drinking and, in the same year, met poet and short story writer Tess Gallagher, with whom he began living after separating from his wife and who significantly influenced his later writings.
During the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Carver revised earlier stories and wrote new pieces for such collections as What We Talk about When We Talk about Love (1981) and Cathedral (1984). He received several awards and grants, including the prestigious Mildred and Harold Strauss Living award in 1983, which stipulated that he write full-time and give up his teaching post at Syracuse University in order to earn a tax-exempt salary for five years. In 1987, Carver was diagnosed with lung cancer. During his last year he continued writing and published the collection Where I’m Calling From. He died from lung cancer in 1988.
Works in Literary Context
Carver is widely recognized as an important influence in contemporary American short fiction. His stories, often set in blue-collar communities of the Pacific Northwest, portray characters on the edge of bankruptcy, both emotionally and financially, and are distinguished by an unadorned, controlled style. While Carver is frequently aligned with minimalist writers, a classification largely based on the truncated prose and elliptical delineation of characters and events in his collection What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, many of his short stories in such later collections as Cathedral and Where I’m Calling From are praised for their expansive treatment of character and the detailed realism of their depictions of everyday life.
Carver has been noted for employing a minimalist style in his short stories. His first collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, conspicuously displays an affinity with the works of American realist writer Ernest Hemingway in its terse, economical prose style. Like Hemingway, Carver created tension in his short stories through omission and understatement, thereby forcing conclusions about a story’s meaning upon the reader. Critics observe that abrupt endings of such stories as ”Neighbors”—the protagonists cling to one another in the hallway of their apartment in unspoken terror—leave the reader wondering what will happen next. Ann Beattie commented on the tableau effect of the ending of a Carver story, stating that ”his language freezes moments in time with a clarity and complexity that allows us all the advantages his doomed characters are denied.”
The stories in Carver’s best-known collection, What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, reach extremes of stark understatement. These stories have been called minimalist masterpieces by some critics and laconic, empty failures by others. Shortly before What We Talk about When We Talk about Love was published, Carver expressed his literary stance in his essay ”A Storyteller’s Shoptalk” (later published as ”On Writing”): ”Get in, get out. Don’t linger. Go on.” While ”in” the story, Carver chose exact details to amplify the underlying terror of seemingly banal events.
Carver has been deemed a spokes person for blue-collar despair, and many critics have noted the often grim nature of his stories, observing that the characters have no control over the circumstances of their lives and that they are subject to random, unsettling losses. Since his earliest collections, he has written about the difficulties, both emotional and financial, of contemporary life. The majority of stories in Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? depict jobless, melancholy protagonists whose unremarkable lives reflect emptiness and despair. The stories in his next collection, Furious Seasons (1977), again portray ordinary, often unhappily married characters and convey a sense of unease. In What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, Carver explores his characters’ feelings of dislocation and lost identity as well as their awareness of random, uncontrollable changes in their lives.
Works in Critical Context
Carver has been credited by a number of reviewers with reviving interest in what was once thought of as a dying literary form, the short story. Although reviewers often disagree about the merit of individual stories or the direction of Carver’s artistic development, he is widely accepted as one of the most important American authors of the twentieth century.
What We Talk about When We Talk about Love
Carver’s best-known collection, What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, was widely praised and helped catapult Carver to wide renown as America’s foremost contemporary short-story writer. One reviewer wrote, ”The characters are not impoverished, except in spirit, or uneducated. They just seem squalid. And Carver celebrates that squalor, makes poetic that squalor in a way nobody else has tried to do.” The most quoted assessment of What We Talk about When We Talk about Love belongs to Donald Newlove: ”Seventeen tales of Hopelessville, its marriages and alcoholic wreckage, told in a prose as sparingly clear as a fifth of iced Smirnoff.”
Though What We Talk about When We Talk about Love is credited for being part of the rejuvenation of the American short story, the book has its detractors. In a review for Atlantic James Atlas stigmatized Carver’s technique by calling it ”severe to the point of anorexia.” Others have labeled the book as ”K-mart Realism,” ”Lo-Cal Literature,” ”Freeze-Dried Fiction,” and ”Post-alcoholic Blue-Collar Minimalist Hyperrealism.” Most often, Carver is accused of writing over his characters’ heads, suggesting he condescends to their inadequacies. For critic Michael Gorra, the stories are ”entirely without the mingled sense of inevitability that seems to me essential for short fiction—the sense that out of all the things that could happen, this one has.”
After What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, Carver was frequently aligned with minimalist writers, but many of his stories in such later collections as Cathedral and Where I’m Calling From were praised for their expansive treatment of character and the detailed realism of their depictions of everyday life. In Cathedral, Carver rewrote the ending of one of his most acclaimed stories from What We Talk about When We Talk about Love. In the original story, entitled ”The Bath,” a boy is hit by a car on his birthday, preventing his mother from picking up his birthday cake at the bakery, while the baker badgers the family with telephone calls demanding his money. At the end of the original story, Carver leaves the boy’s ultimate fate unknown, but in Cathedral, he reveals that the boy has in fact died. The parents now answer the telephone and tell the baker their story, to which he replies with his own story of loneliness and despair while comforting them with fresh coffee and warm rolls and telling them that ”eating is a small, good thing in a time like this.” The change in this story has been remarked by critics as a change in Carver’s thematic approach to contemporary life. One reviewer has asserted that while ”’The Bath’ is a good short story,” the newer version, entitled ”A Small, Good Thing,” ”comes breathtakingly close to perfection.” A Washington Post Book World critic wrote,
The first version is beautifully crafted and admirably concise, but lacking in genuine compassion; the mysterious caller is not so much a human being as a mere voice, malign and characterless. But in the second version that voice becomes a person, one whose own losses are, in different ways, as crippling and heart breaking as the one suffered by the grieving parents.
The publication of Cathedral, which received both National Book Critics and Pulitzer Prize nominations, was able to catapult Carver beyond the ”minimalist” stereotype to which he had been confined. Reviewers and critics differ in their assessments, but they agreed that Cathedral marks a transition in Carver’s career. Although some critics find his later stories sentimental, most consider that they represent a significant departure toward more insightful portraits of contemporary life and demonstrate his continued artistic development.
- Gentry, Marshall Bruce and William L. Stull, eds. Conversations with Raymond Carver. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 1990.
- Campbell, Ewing. Raymond Carver: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.
- Halpert, Sam. Raymond Carver: An Oral Biography. Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1995.
- Meyer, Adam. Raymond Carver. New York: Twayne, 1994.
- Nesset, Kirk. The Stories of Raymond Carver: A Critical Study. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1995.
- Runyon, Randolph. Reading Raymond Carver. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1992.
- Saltzman, Arthur M. Understanding Raymond Carver. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.
- Stull, William and Maureen P. Carroll, eds. Remembering Ray: A Composite Biography of Raymond Carver. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra, 1993.
- Cochrane, Hamilton E. Taking the Cure: Alcoholism and Recovery in the Fiction of Raymond Carver.” Dayton Review (Summer 1989): 79-88.
- Gorra, Michael. Laughter and Bloodshed.” Hudson Review (Spring 1984): 151-164.
- Kaufmann, David. Yuppie Postmodernism.” Arizona Quarterly (Summer 1991): 93-116.
- Meyer, Adam. Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, Now You Do Again: The Evolution of Raymond Carver’s Minimalism.” Critique (Summer 1989): 239-251.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.