“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is a short story written by Raymond Carver and published in 1981’s collection under the same title. The tale shows four people, Mel, Teresa, Laura, and Nick, sitting at the kitchen table and talking about love. The main topic the four friends discuss is love, and all the stories they share, such as their argument about domestic violence and the readiness to die for the feelings, are closely related to it. By using multiple literary devices, the author presents a vivid picture, showing different approaches to the concept of love. When analyzing the story, it becomes clear that it is full of hidden symbols and has a deeper meaning, providing an outlook on communication of married people having different perceptions of a subject.
The story is narrated in the first person by one of the participants of the conversation, Nick and through his perception of the events, Carver shows love as a concept, which is difficult to describe using language. To prove it, the author uses the text to show difficulties with the language, demonstrated by the participants of the story. One such example is the wrong use of the word “vessels” instead of “vassals” by Mel (Carver 6). By using this technique, Carver proves his idea of love being difficult to discuss by words and shows the confusion of the characters.
The setting of the narration does not change throughout the whole text, signifying the feeling of restriction the characters have, reflecting their confinement in the process of discussion. The author also uses light as a literary device, showing that at the beginning of the story “sunlight filled the kitchen from the big window behind the sink” (Carver 1). It signifies the feeling of clarity the characters experience, while later it becomes darker, implying that friends lose mutual understanding.
One of the important themes in the story is communication as it presents a typical interaction of spouses when they do not agree on a certain subject. During the narration, the reader sees that Nick and Laura remain mostly silent and show affection to each other by hugging and holding hands, making Terry irritated by these gestures. Meanwhile, she tells her husband and friends about her previous relationship, in which she was a victim of domestic violence. Despite this fact, she was sure that the man loved her, and tried to convince Mel that her previous husband committed suicide in the end for the sake of this feeling. The woman is open to the idea that there are many ways for true love’s manifestation while her husband rejects it, thinking that “real love was nothing less than spiritual love” (Carver 1). It serves as an example of communication between men and women when they operate different concepts, which is often met in real life.
Raymond Carver has a way of making the characters look vivid with the help of symbolism. For instance, the fact that Mel is a cardiologist entails irony as love is generally regarded to come from the heart, but the character fails to understand its meaning. The ending of the story is also symbolic as the narrator claims he can “hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart”, implying he is the only one to understand the meaning of love (Carver 8). By using these numerous symbols, the author creates a picturesque image of the communication process and elaborates on the main subject of the story.
In conclusion, the main theme of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is love, which is shown by the author through the process of communication between two married couples. The interaction of a male and a female is one of the central points of the story, providing the idea about difficulties in communication between genders. The author utilizes various symbols to make the narration more vivid and show different approaches to love. In the end, Carver leaves a hint at what the right perception of love is, making the story distinguishable from other similar tales.
Carver, Raymond. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. 1981. Web.