What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

bekkirsch By bekkirsch, 11th Oct 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/3tdb3ixg/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Essays

When I needed to write a paper on Carver's story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, I found few resources. Here is a paper I wrote about this short story. I hope this helps! The page numbers are from my textbook, but this story is printed in multiple media and can be found online in its entirety.

"Love" is a four-letter word.

Everyone seems to have a favorite four letter word; the one spoken many times a day, sometimes more than once in the same sentence, that holds a meaning and packs a punch. Many of these “four letter words” could be rather inappropriate, like a certain bold statement piece that starts with an F. In What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, we explore another linguistic bomb of four letters that some of us throw around with reckless abandon and that others don’t use enough. This word begins with an L— the infamous L word: Love.

Anyone can try and define love, but the answer does not seem to be as simple as defining the word itself. Even the dictionary – the veritable authority on most things defined --doesn’t have a solid, concrete, infallible definition of love; the most recent print including 20+ results as both a verb and noun. Throughout time Man has tried to define love, and has generally failed to do so in any meaningful unanimous manner, as made especially evident by a conversation among an inebriated group of remarried professionals we meet in Raymond Carver’s short story.

The first character introduced, and probably the hardest to love, is Mel McGinnis. In addition to being Terri’s husband and a friend to the other couple Nick and Laura, he is also a cardiac surgeon and former seminarian. His idea of love is comprised of “spiritual love”, which is most consistent with his years in seminary where he helped form a love of man and love of God, at the expense of being unable to feel complete within another person and love them romantically. This in some ways is in direct conflict with his profession where he manipulates the tangible symbol and physical representation of life and love, the human heart (Carver 850). Mel seems to love his wife more passionately when she was a “damsel in distress” and she played in to his egoistic needs of feeling important and playing the hero; now that he doesn’t need a gun to protect himself anymore or to “live like fugitives”, the monotonous dust has settled, and you can see in the way he reacts to his wife when she corrects him (Carver 856), their marriage has fallen into a similar pattern as Terri’s first marriage to Ed (Carver 851, 853-4). Mel seems to display a slightly perturbed envy of an old couple he meets in the hospital, whose story he has framed as a parable; despite their injuries in an accident, the old man feels a sorrow for not seeing his wife, rather than his situation. Mel is envious of the way they love each other, and that he doesn’t seem to have had that deep of an experience with anyone where he has wanted to see someone that badly, or needed someone that much (Carver 857).

While the reader may struggle to love Mel, in many ways, the reader often knows a Terri in his or her own life. Terri seems to be drawn to abusive relationships; as described by Mel and made evident by her relationship with Ed, she belongs to the “kick-me-so-I-know-you-love-me school” (Carver 850). The only love Terri seems to know is unkind--with name calling or physical assault, or dramatic-- with stalking, suicide attempts, and death threats. It would seem Terri cannot differentiate love from obsession, demonstrated quite clearly by how vehemently she defends the love she claims to have had with Ed, despite her mistreatment (Carver 850-851). Terri thinks every expression is of love, and therefore can say that Ed loved her, and that Mel loves her, even though they express it in different ways; Mel and Ed share the similarity of belittling Terri, which in some ways plays into her codependency/victim complex. Terri needed a savior and Mel provided that, but now that the initial spark is gone, she has fallen into a similar pattern, even though her partner has changed.
In the case of Terri and Mel, it is important to note that their definitions of love have some roots in the fact that they have been together longer than their friends Nick and Laura, but also that their roots run deeper—they were both previously married, Mel had kids with his first wife, and Mel has lived in his same apartment for at least the last 6 years. Terri has been in the same area for at least as long, and lived nearby when she was previously married. Nick makes it clear that everyone ended up in Albuquerque but were not originally natives, implying that maybe Laura and he had moved there later, but it was where Mel and Terri were from, or at least not very far from their point of origin (Carver 850-851).

Nick is friends with Mel, as well as the narrator of the story, and presumably the bridge between the group members. It is stated about Nick that he is 38, three years older than his wife Laura (Carver 852), and it is known he and his wife were both previously married (Carver 854). At the point we are introduced, it is understood that Nick and Laura have been together for about a year and a half after meeting through their work. Nick generally displays his affections with touch—he notes in his own recounts that he makes a grandiose gesture of his affections (Carver 853) and he mentions multiple incidences where he touches Laura and she is warm (Carver 851). Nick is a tactile person and shows his affection through touch most prevalently, while exuding the warmth and excitement of his relatively new love. Laura as his counterpart is fairly complacent in her idea of love as being the receiver of affectionate gestures and shares similarly in Nick’s honeymoon happiness. Nick and Laura have an altogether very different view of love, but their relationship is considerably newer, and they aren’t nearly as jaded as their friends (Carver 853). This is partially due to their age difference, one would imagine, as they are about 10 years younger than Mel and Terri. The reader knows slightly less about Nick and Laura’s past, but they seem to have little frame of reference for the situations of Mel and Terri or Terri and Ed. Nick and Laura share a similar contentment with being good company and having the commonality of their work, but similarly to their friends, seem to also lack any dimensional depth, and there seems to be little passion in their love.

With the pouring of alcohol and the consumption as the story goes on, the mood gets tense, and there are some revelations about our cast as well. It is immediately noticeable how they have all faded as the talk goes on, and how their relationships have changed as they age. It is easy to tell that the friends have had too much to drink, and that their many drunken jokes are somewhere distantly rooted in their sober thoughts. If there is anything to take away from this story, it would be that no one can objectively define love, and that nothing good seems to come from talking about it.

Tags

Education, Essay, Essay Of Love, Love, Love Romance Definition What Is It, Short Fiction, Short Story, Story

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author avatar bekkirsch
Short, italian, quirky, and jewish with Aspergers. Not average.

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Comments

author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
12th Oct 2015 (#)

Love is multi-faceted and depends on the persons involved. Generally, women are more romantic while men tend to be matter of fact. To keep the flames burning all through life is only for the few.

Thanks for the review and analysis - siva

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
12th Oct 2015 (#)

I don't recall what I talk about love but at the end I enjoyed this post

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author avatar 紅蜘蛛(液体)+壮陽丹
28th Sep 2017 (#)

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