Will you please be quiet, please? Raymond Carver
Background of WYPBQP? Carver’s first collection of short stories, first published in 1976. Came from working class or working poor American family – father was an alcoholic, mother worked as a waitress. Lived predominately in Yakima, Washington. Carver grew up after the depression, but any wealth passed them by. Family was both estranged from society and each other.
Why is this important? In many ways, his work chronicles the experiences of the American blue-collar working-class, an underclass often termed the working poor, or what Professor William L. Stull called ‘his submerged population’. Paradoxically, it is through the sparseness of his prose that Carver is able so effectively to convey his characters’ emotional ineptness through their own inarticulate inability to understand their dilemmas. In other words, the author’s disciplined control of language creates a powerful sense of the stunted state of characters’ lack of control of language, which mirrors their lack of knowledge and understanding. Carver was also a poet, which perhaps explains some of the stripped-back intensity of his writing. (Saltau, M, Inside Stories, VATE 2012)
‘Fat’ Unnamed waitress is telling her friend Rita about a customer who is ‘the fattest person I have ever seen’. The waitress’ partner Rudy tells a story of a ‘fat guy’ he knew when he ‘was a kid’—‘Fat, that’s the only name this one kid had’—places him in that immature state of development that many of Carver’s characters inhabit. The waitress is unexplainably attracted to the customer and herself starts to feel ‘terrifically fat’, whereas ‘Rudy is a tiny little thing and hardly there at all’, this further demonstrates the distance between the waitress and her partner.
‘Neigbours’ Protagonists Bill and Arlene Miller ‘look after the Stones’ apartment, feed Kitty, and water the plants’ whilst the Stones go on holiday. The Millers do not take holidays and are depicted as barren and almost dead in comparison to the Stones. The Millers are very much stuck in their lives and use the Stones’ apartment as an escape. They each go into the Stones’ apartment separately, trying on the Stones’ lives. At the end of the story they are on the brink of entering the apartment across the corridor together for the first time, dimly understanding that ‘anything could happen’, they are forced to ‘brace themselves’ in order to face what this signifies for them.
‘Are you a doctor? ’ Arnold a passive, somewhat lonely man is called by a strange woman (Clara Holt) who asks him to come to her house. A somewhat bizarre encounter at the woman’s house highlights Arnold’s weakness and lack of identity. The distance between husband wife is both physical and emotional. The story ends with a phone call from his wife, during which Arnold does not ‘sound like’ himself.
‘The Father’ A man sits at a table whilst the family members gather around a new baby and discuss who the baby looks like. The conversation turns to who the man, who is physically separated from his family, looks like. The man listens in to the conversation. The family determine that he ‘doesn’t look like anybody’ the man’s ‘face was white and without expression’ demonstrating his lack of identity and inability to fit into any of the family’s proffered roles.
‘Nobody said anything’ A boy wags school and goes fishing. He meets another boy and together they catch a fish. To resolve their dispute they end up chopping the fish in half and each take half home. The boy returns to his fighting parents. The food is burning, the fish is scorned. “The story is a disturbing portrait of division and loss, the silver and green of the two fish in striking contrast to the image of the snake conjured up by the panicking mother. The snake, emblem of evil and loss of innocence, is indeed present in this family, indicated by the squabbling parents and the splintering of the group. The fish, however, is a resonant reminder of something else; the light -filled colours of the fish oppose the moral darkness of the boy’s life. Traditionally, fish is associated with Christianity and with sacred meals. At the end of this piece, the burning food, whose smoke has hellish connotations, is thrown against the wall and the summer steelhead has been cut in two. ” (Saltau, M, Inside Stories, VATE 2012)
‘Night School’ Lonely man who is ‘not going anywhere’ after his wife left and his ‘new’ girl is out of town. Meets a couple of women at a bar and agrees to drive them to a professor’s house. He leaves the women outside his father’s house. Neither he nor his father have a job. The story is characterised by loneliness and aimlessness.
‘What do you do in San Francisco? ’ A post man narrates the story of a couple who move into his small town Arcata. “The motif of both constancy and impermanence, the mailman, is the organising idea in ‘What Do You Do in San Francisco? ’ The answer ‘nothing, really’ sets the tone for the story. Explicit reference to ’The American Dream’s’ enshrinement of work as the key to self-respect and success runs through this story like an ironic comment. The opening sentence—‘This has nothing to do with me’—is undercut throughout the narrative; at the end, the speaker is exactly the same as he is at the start: all he has is his job, no human connection or understanding has been achieved. The tale of the couple’s sojourn in Arcata is just that; we can fill in the gaps, but the speaker does not. ” (Saltau, M, Inside Stories, VATE 2012)
‘Jerry and Molly and Sam’ Al, a man almost typical of Carver’s characters, is close to unemployment, strained relationship with his wife and family, unfaithful, directionless and disillusioned. Al blames a lot of his troubles on the family dog. He takes the dog away and leaves it on the other side of town. He soon realises that this has not solved any of his problems and tries to retrieve the dog, who does not want to return. Suzy, the dog, becomes a metaphor for Al’s attempt to gain control over his life. It is possible that at the end of the story Al recognises his mistakes and embarks on a more fruitful attempt and reinvigorating his life.
‘Why Honey? ’ Written in the form of a letter, an ageing woman write about her estranged son. She lives in fear of her son, but it is not explained whether this fear is reasonable, or paranoia. Her son is ‘a powerful man’ and she describes him as ‘a good boy except for his outbursts and that he could not tell the truth’. As she continues and details her son’s childhood the reader becomes increasingly sympathetic and understanding of her fear. We never know to who she is writing.
‘Bicycles, Muscles and Cigarettes’ Somewhat atypical of Carver’s writing, this story portrays a happy marriage with open communication. Set in a suburban environment, Evan Hamilton who has quit smoking, helps his son resolve an issue with a damaged/missing bike. Hamilton (Carver uses his last name suggesting a certain maturity) exhibits typical masculine traits by taking control of the situation. This is somewhat undermined by his fight with Berman (another boy’s father). Despite this, Hamilton is able to demonstrate the responsibility and control lacking from so many of Carver’s characters and is able to metaphorically leave the door open to improve his relationship with his son.
‘Will you please be quiet, please? ’ The title story is somewhat seminal in understanding Carver’s concerns. The protagonist Ralph forces a confession from his wife of a past affair. This precipitates a night of drinking and wandering aimlessly questioning his life, before returning to his house. He does not want to speak to his wife, begging her to ‘just be quiet, please’ but ultimately responds to her sexual advances. The sexual encounter is seen as regenerative, bringing new hope to the relationship, leaving behind their idealism about marriage.
‘Will you please be quiet, please? ’ The male protagonist is adrift. At 18, he has needed to be ‘counselled by his father’. Ralph’s movement through life is aimless; he is open to any mentor, his passivity inviting a guiding hand. Love is essential, but it is difficult to hold on to. The early idealism of his marriage has inevitably dissipated. Ralph feels like a stranger in life, as suggested by the image he has on their honeymoon. Ralph’s response to Marion’s revelation is to leave, to run away and to drink. Under the influence of alcohol, the world turns into a hellish nightmare. As in several other stories, Ralph’s state of mind is conveyed through a series of expressionistically described incidents. Language is inadequate, but communication is crucial. At what is almost his lowest point, Ralph ‘could not understand the words’. The motifs of the culture of the 1970 s create a world which often does not make sense, and which offers no guidance. The divided man in the neon sign is a physical representation of the divisions within Ralph’s daughter asks him, ‘What did you do to your face, Daddy? ’ echoing ‘You don’t sound like yourself’, from ‘Are You a Doctor? ’ and ‘What does Daddy look like? ’ in ‘The Father’. (Saltau, M, Inside Stories, VATE 2012)
Characters Carver’s men are generally poor, lonely, isolated, hopeless, alcoholic, fail to communicate, or directionless. They are usually a combination of these things. They are representatives of the society of Carver’s life, and exhibit the social malaise associated with the underclass, unable to find prosperity for their families. Carver’s women are generally more alive than their male counterparts, despite wrestling with the same circumstances. The fate of Carver’s children generally rests upon their father’s. This is particularly clear in the contrast between R an anonymous character in ‘Nobody said anything’ and Roger, in ‘Bicycles, Muscles and Cigarettes’, given both a name and a close relationship with this father suggesting a brighter future.
Themes The failure of ‘The American Dream’. The failure of love and marriage and the resultant loneliness and isolation Identity (particularly masculine identity) Being trapped/unable to find own way Voyeurism
Motifs Carver uses motifs extensively to draw his stories together and create meaning: Divorce Unemployment Names Food Domestic settings Unrealised desires Alcohol
Language and Style Muted or ‘precisionist’ language that can build and obscure meaning. Unresolved endings. Both first and third person narration used. When first person narrator used, the narrator never reveals their name, creating a sense of separation and alienation for the reader. Symbolism and metaphor used rather than imagery.
Key Quotes ‘A man who isn’t working has got too much time on his hands, too much time to dwell on himself and his problems. ’ ‘What Do You Do in San Francisco? ‘They leaned into the door as if against a wind, and braced themselves. ’ ‘Neighbours’ ‘It is August. My life is going to change. I feel it. ’ ‘Fat’ ‘You don’t sound like yourself. ’ ‘Are you a doctor? ’ ‘He doesn’t look like anybody…but he has to look like somebody. ’ ‘The Father’ ‘But neither of them paid any attention. ’ ‘ Nobody Said Anything. ’ ‘It was easier to let go a little. ’ ‘Will you please be quiet, please? ’ ‘He turned and turned…marveling at the impossible changes he felt moving over him. ’ ‘Will you please be quiet, please? ’
Further resources Wheeler centre discussion: https: //www. youtube. com/watch? v=v. SKTi. BFJLU 0 Text article including sample question analysis: https: //drive. google. com/file/d/0 B_Oc. Hzwyl. OHASX p. Ga 3 d. VRzh 0 Rk 0/view? usp=sharing
Exam Questions 2012 i. ‘In these stories, Carver shows more sympathy for men than for women. ’ Discuss. ii. ‘In Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? , Carver presents lives that seem hopeless. ’ Discuss. 2013 i. ‘In Carver’s stories, very little seems to be happening. ’ Discuss. ii. ‘It is difficult to feel compassion for Carver’s characters. ’ To what extent do you agree?