In the short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver, two married couples, Mel and Terri and Nick and Laura sit around a kitchen table at the McGinnis’ apartment in Albuquerque, New Mexico, drinking gin and discussing about the meaning of love. …
Mel McGinnis is a forty-five year old cardiologist and Terri is his second wife. Both have been married for four years and have been together for five. Nick, the narrator, and Laura are also married and have been together for only eighteen months. In this short story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver uses symbolism, language and gestures to examine the different kinds of love – spiritual, intellectual, romantic, sensual, brutal, possessive, unrequited and parental love - in order to find the meaning of true love. It is interesting to note that the setting of the story is limited both in terms of time and place. The action of the story takes place as the couples sit around the kitchen table over the course of an evening. No one gets up to do anything else except to get out a second bottle of gin. This “limited” setting is balanced with the characters’ limited understanding of what “love” is all about. No one seems to have a firm understanding of what love really is. Each person has his own definition of love. For Mel, love is something spiritual, Terri associates love with violence and possessiveness while Nick and Laura delight in romantic and physical love. At the start of the story, Nick, the narrator, explains that “The gin and tonic water kept going around, and we somehow got on the subject of love.” Mel insists that spiritual love is the only real love. He believes that “real love was nothing less than spiritual love.” His background Sebastian 2 as a seminarian before attending medical school has taught him this. The topic of conversation then turns to Terri’s abusive former husband, Ed. Both Terri and Mel debate whether or not Ed really loved Terri. Terri was once married to this man who abused her, a man who “went dragging me (Terri) around the living room. My head kept knocking on things ….(and Terry insists that) People are different , Mel. Sure, sometimes he may have acted crazy. Okay. But he loved me. In his own way maybe, but he loved me. There was love there Mel. Don’t say there wasn’t” (Carver). Mel insists that what Terri and her ex-husband had was not love. “I sure as hell wouldn’t call it love. …. If that’s love, you can have it” (Carver). Ed’s love for Terri was an obsession. He was so obsessed with Terri that he did not want anyone to have her if he could not have her for himself. Ed was a passionate man who could not control his emotions. He resorted to violence when he realized that he had lost Terri to another man. He attempted to kill her but ended up killing himself. Although Terri is a battered woman who was abused by her husband, she still loved him. When Ed was on his death bed, she loved him so much that she sat by his side until the moment he died. Mel finds it hard to believe that there could be love in a relationship where one partner physically abuses the other. He says his definition of love is different in which “you don’t try to kill people.” Laura, on the other hand, says that she is not in a position to judge whether it was love or not because she is not aware of the circumstances and does not really know what happened. This shows that one’s definition of love is not necessarily shared by others. Professor Fred Moramarco in his essay “Carver’s Couples Talk About Love”, is of the view that Carver’s stories express “puzzlement about the odd and battered condition of love in the contemporary world” - “a world of serial relationships where one year’s love is the next year’s courtroom adversary”. He further reiterates that “the transience of contemporary Sebastian 3 relationships creates a need for the characters – ...
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