What We Talk About When We Talk About Love | Study Guide

Raymond Carver

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love | Why Don't You Dance? | Summary



A man stands in the kitchen of his now-empty house, drinking whiskey and looking out the window. He has moved into the yard everything that was in the house. He considers the bedroom suite in the yard, which he has arranged so "things looked much the way they had in the bedroom" with "his side, her side." People driving by stare but don't stop, and it occurs "to him that he wouldn't, either."

A young couple drives up, thinking they've found a yard sale. The girl and the boy are "furnishing a little apartment." The man sits on the sofa and watches them as they rifle through his belongings, but they don't see him. The boy turns on the TV. The girl makes herself at home, lying on the bed, but the boy is uncomfortable. He says he will check if anyone's home and ask about prices. The girl instructs him, "Whatever they ask, offer ten dollars less. It's always a good idea." She assumes the owners are desperate to sell.

The man returns with more alcohol and greets the boy and the girl, who is lying on the bed. He agrees to sell them the bed and TV for $10 less than what he asked. He pours them each a drink and sits on the sofa. He tells the girl to name a price for the desk, noting "there was something about their faces. It was nice or it was nasty. There was no telling."

The man turns off the TV and puts a record, chosen randomly by the girl, on the record player. The boy is getting drunk and writing a check. The man asks them, "Why don't you dance?" The boy declines, and the man urges them, "Go ahead ... It's my yard. You can dance if you want to."

The boy and girl dance in the driveway until the boy announces he's drunk. The girl says, "Dance with me," and the man stands and she comes "to him with her arms wide open." As they dance, they agree it doesn't matter the neighbors are watching. The man tells the girl, "I hope you like your bed." She pulls him close and tells him, "You must be desperate or something."

Afterward, the girl describes the encounter to everyone she knows. She characterizes the event as absurd and the man as pathetic, but "there was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out." Unable to convey the significance of it, she finally stops telling the story.


This first story is a typical Raymond Carver story, in it lacks a strong plot but nonetheless is emotionally potent. The girl in the story discovers there is more to the story than what can be described. This "something more" is the inexpressible quality of subjective experience. All Carver's stories are ultimately concerned with this. Unlike the girl in the story, Carver succeeds in evoking what is inward and profound by presenting only the most essential external details.

One way Carver does this is by presenting story elements in terms of paired opposites. This not only creates a sense of tension, it gives the story a quality of universality. Carver does not give the characters names but refers to them only as "the man," "the girl," and "the boy." Consequently, these characters rise to the level of archetypes, and the reader understands their actions and perceptions as typical and representative of all men, all girls, and all boys. The girl and the boy form a complete pair, but the woman, implied by the man, is missing from the narrative. This woman—the man's wife—is evoked through implication. As the man considers his bedroom suite, he reflects on its division into "his side" and "her side." He has maintained this division in the course of moving all his possessions from inside the house to outside the house. Together, these two pairs of opposites imply the man is undergoing an existential crisis as a result of a divorce.

The girl senses the man's crisis and labels it desperation. She is unaware her presence helps move the man toward emotional freedom. By assuming it is a yard sale and lowballing the man, she inadvertently encourages him to let go of his attachment to the things he had shared with his wife and, by extension, to the marriage itself. This empowers the man, who becomes progressively generous as he rids himself of the material objects that signify his loss. His proclamation "Everything goes" suggests he not only intends to sell everything but the loss of his marriage has freed him from the restrictions of propriety, duty, and habit. This "devil may care" attitude reaches its climax as the man and girl dance together in front of the watching neighbors and the drunken boy. The girl perceives she has been a part of something significant but cannot avoid trivializing it when she attempts to put words to it. Like many of Carver's characters, she finds her attempts to communicate meaning throttled by the failure of language.

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