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Raymond Carver: “Why Don’t You Dance?”

Raymond carvers short-story “Why Don’t You Dance” stops short of telling the reader in an overt way exactly what the details of the story are in relation to the action and characters that are conveyed. For example, it is not stated explicitly why the man who is selling his possessions is selling them. One good guess that a reader might make is that the man is selling his things because his wife has left him. He no longer has a need for the trappings of married life.  I think this is a very good interpretation because the items that he sells to the young couple are those which would most signify married life: a bed, TV, desk. It as though the man who is selling is things to the young couple is also selling them the truth of marriage, as though he is initiating them into a new level of marital experience.

Carver creates tension in the story by leaving out some of the most expected details. he leaves out the specific reason for the man to sell his things; he leaves out the names of the characters, and he leaves out describing the setting of the story in any detail. the reason that he leaves all of these elements out is because he wants the theme of divorce and marriage to seem universally applicable. It is as though Carver is trying to suggest that the events of the story could have happened to any pair of couples in  anyplace at any time. One of the reasons that omitting key information from the story is so effective is also because the characters are portrayed as drinking to excess. the “spotty” facts of the story therefore reinforce the idea of hazy memories and drunken experiences.  One last possible reason for leaving out so much information is so that the length of the written story corresponds to the brevity of the interaction between the two young characters and the older man.

The depiction of the incident as fleeting is important because the story closes with the young  woman trying to “talk” the memory of the encounter out of herself. She has probably been frightened by the initiation into a failed marriage and its fallout. The oddness of seeing all the furnishings on the lawn has simultaneously frightened her and  filled her with a sense of joyful opportunity and luck. She is young and hopeful but senses under the selling of the items the catastrophe of a broken marriage. There is a sense of building nostalgia as well as regret in her tone when she contemplates telling the story to others.

Carver uses visceral descriptions of the items, the smell and touch of the bed and furnishings, and the sound of the record-player to heighten the sense or realism and thereby increase a sense of loss and fleeting time. When the young girl lies down on the bed she is trying to symbolically initiate herself into marriage but is unwittingly initiating herself into the reality of divorce and broken dreams. This action on her behalf shows that she is innocent, optimistic, and sincere; however, it also shows that she is naive to understanding the full implications of the state of the older man’s life and circumstances, even though the drinking and scattered possessions make it pretty obvious that he is going through a traumatic breakup.

The ending of the story shows that the girl has not fully realized what the experience of meeting the older, drunk man has revealed in her. She is anxious to tell the story to others and make conversation about it because she has yet to purge herself of the uneasiness that the encounter produced in her. Obviously, she had been harboring some reservations about the young man she was with and also recognized that he had reservations of his own.  The experience of meeting the drunk older man who was selling his possessions has disturbed the girl because she fears her own  life may follow a similar path. She can’t understand why, but she suspects that sometime down the road her present romance may end in the kind of tragedy adn chaos that is shown by the drunk man.