Raymond Carver's inheritance from Ernest Hemingway's literary technique.
IF RAYMOND CARVER MODELED HEMINGWAY at the outset of his career--his first published story, "Pastoral," has been labeled "a Hemingway imitation" (Stull, "Remembered" 466)--he consciously resisted Papa's gravitational force early as well. "The Aficionados," Carver's 1963 parody of Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley's relationship, published in a collegiate magazine under the pseudonym John Vale, mocks Hemingway's deification of bullfighting and his main character's quiet heroism. Carver's story concludes with the Barnes substitute baring his chest in a public ritual so that the object of his doomed love can literally cut out his heart. (1) Carver again rejects Hemingwayesque heroes along the lines of bullfighter Pedro Romero or freedom fighter Robert Jordan in a poem titled "The Baker." When his wife gives sexual favors to Pancho Villa, Carver's baker crosses himself:
and left the house holding his boots without so much as a sign to his wife or Vronsky. That anonymous husband, barefooted, humiliated, trying to save his life, he is the hero of this poem. (All 9)
As Tobias Wolff has observed, this escape "goes to the heart" of Carver's "sense of life," his "rejection of the heroic and lofty"; Carver honors the "virtue of endurance, just staying alive in the world" (qtd. in Halpert 155). While Robert Jordan sacrifices his life to allow his comrades and lover to escape from the advancing Fascists, Carver says bluntly in his essay "Friendship": "Would I give up my place on the lifeboat, that is to say, die, for any one of my friends? I hesitate, but [...] the answer is an unheroic no" (No Heroics 221).
Yet, although Hemingway is best-known for his own larger-than-life adventures, as well as for his death-defying protagonists, another Hemingway, the domestic Hemingway, the writer who subtly captured moments of marital relationships under stress--this Hemingway was much more useful to Carver. And this is the Hemingway whom Carver followed technically and echoed without derision.
While praising the short story collection In Our Time for its cadences and clean, crisp writing, Carver singled out "Cat in the Rain" as one of his favorite Hemingway tales. "Nothing much happens" Carver said, "but you know that the relationship is going bad" (qtd. in Pope and McElhinny 17). This statement describes many Carver stories, including "The Student's Wife," an apprentice delineation of marital malaise clearly echoing "Cat in the Rain." In Hemingway's story, a young wife reveals her dissatisfaction by childishly rattling off a series of desires: "'I want to pull my hair back tight and smooth and make a big knot at the back that I can feel;"' "'I want to have a kitty to sit on my lap and purr when I stroke her;"' "' And I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in front of a mirror and I want a kitty and I want some new clothes'" (SS 169-170). The woman's desire for a cat suggests a greater yearning for a baby, yet she appears unaware of this deeper desire, (2) as does her husband, who snaps, "'Oh, shut up and get something to read'" (170). In "The Student's Wife," an insomniac woman creates an enormous catalog of pleasures and desires, trying to talk herself into sleep:
"I like good books and magazines, riding on trains at night, and those times I flew in an airplane. [...] I like that, flying in airplanes. There's a moment as you leave the ground you feel whatever happens is all right. [...] I like staying up late at night and then staying in bed the next morning. I wish we could do that all the time, not just once in a while. [...] I'd like to go dancing at least once a week. I'd like to have nice clothes all the time. I'd like to be able to buy the kids nice clothes every time they need it without having to wait. [...] And I'd like us to have a place of our own. I'd like to stop moving around every year, or every other year. [...]" (Where I'm Calling From 39)
This woman's husband is insensitive, too, snapping: "I wish you'd leave me alone [...]" (40). Carver's Nan is more aware of her oppression than Hemingway's American girl, and the ending of "The Student's Wife" finds her desperately asking for divine assistance.
Only a few years after ridiculing Hemingway in "The Aficionados" Carver published one of his best stories, "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?," both a clear acknowledgment of its precursor and a sharp thematic departure. In "Hills Like White Elephants" exasperated by her lover's dishonest attempt to pressure her into an abortion, Hemingway's Jig cries out: "Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?" (SS 277). In Carver's story, Ralph Wyman, desiring silence, tells his adulterous wife: "Will you please be quiet, please?" (Will You Please 250). While little happens in "Hills Like White Elephants"--the characters drink and talk around their problems at a train station--Carver's story is atypically action-packed. Ralph argues with his wife, storms out and gets drunk, gambles, gets mugged and beaten, and then, returning home, has sex. While silence speaks to the emotional impoverishment of Hemingway's couple, at the conclusion of "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?", silence involves lovemaking, reconciliation, and evolution.
Asked to name his favorite story, Carver said that a writer could learn a lot from "Hills Like White Elephants" (Halpert 126). Although we cannot determine exactly what he learned from Hemingway, Carver's method in "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" and in many stories to follow is quite comparable to the minimalist or precisionist technique of "Hills Like White Elephants." (3) Both stories share minimalist traits such as simple diction, direct syntax, and the absence of an omniscient narrator to clarify thematic meaning. Moreover, "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" and many other Carver stories, as well as Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" employ what Adam Meyer considers "the salient feature of minimalism," omission (29-30). Hemingway famously described his theory of omission in Death in the Afternoon:
If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only, one-eighth of it being above water. (4)(182)
In "Hills Like White Elephants," the story, hinges on an unspoken word, abortion, with Jig and the American discussing their situation without using either this word or the word baby. The elisions suggest their poor communication and anxiety about the "awfully simple operation" neither can name as well as about marriage and parenthood.
Offering his own theory of omission in "On Writing," Carver claims that "tension" or "menace" can be created by "things [...] left out" but "implied" (Fires 17). The titular story of the collection Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? offers a significant omission--Ralph Wyman's fear that he is not the biological father of his children (5)--while ambiguous pronoun usage, a Hemingwayesque technique, is central to developing this aspect of the story. On a Sunday evening in a seemingly happy home, Marian Wyman asks her husband offhandedly, "Do you ever think about that party?" (Will 231). After she lapses into silence, Ralph inquires, "'What about it? Now that you brought it up, what about it? [...] He kissed you, after all, that night, didn't he?'" The first "it" refers to "that party," but the referents of the second and third "its" are more vague. Ralph's repeated use of the indefinite pronoun intimates that he attaches an additional meaning to the word--an interpretation supported by the narrative's previous association of "it" with Ralph's fear of being a cuckold: "For he had taken it into his head that his wife had once betrayed him with a man named Mitchell Anderson" (230). Marian responds: "'I was just thinking about it and I asked you, that's all. [...] Sometimes I think about it'" (231). Is she thinking about the party, about another man kissing her, or about something else, guilt perhaps? The conversation becomes increasingly tense. Marian admits that Anderson kissed her "a few times," which Ralph says contradicts what she said in the past (232), and then the text becomes menacing, a flashback or fantasy scene delineating spousal abuse:
"What did you do that for?" she was saying dreamily. "Where were you all night?" he was screaming, standing over her, legs watery, fist drawn back to hit again. Then she said, "I didn't do anything. Why did you hit me?" she said. (232, Carver's emphasis)
Marian apologizes for "ever" having "said anything about it" (233), "it" threateningly unclear to Ralph, who struggles to remain calm: "'Look, honey, it has been brought up now [...] and it was four years ago, so there's no reason at all I can think of that we can't talk about it now if we want to. Is there?'" (233, Carver's emphasis). Obviously Ralph would not be upset if "it" referred merely to a long ago party. When Marian declines to provide more details, he explodes: "'For Christ's sake, Marian! Now I mean it'" (234). After she admits that Anderson propositioned her--"'He said shall we have a go at it?'" (237)--Ralph is devastated, and not just because he is sure that his wife committed adultery. Before Marian details what happened, Ralph "suddenly" has "a great desire to see the children" (236)--"the" children, not "his" children--and then, after her admission of Anderson's sexual advances, Ralph screams: "'Did he come in you? Did you let him come in you when you were having your go at it?'" (238). Later that evening, a drunken Ralph thinks desperately: "Marian! Dorothea! Robert! It was impossible" (240), the indefinite "it" encompassing not only the-adultery Marian essentially confirmed, but also the paternity of his children. If Marian's encounter with Anderson occurred two to four years earlier--the story equivocates on the exact time--this adultery could not have produced either of Ralph's children, who are aged four and five. Yet, if Marian could have a drunken, sordid tryst with Anderson in a car, perhaps there were adulteries before that with Anderson or another man. It is impossible to know for sure.
The technique of omitting clear antecedents for pronouns and locating important meaning in indefinite words is certainly a lesson Carver could have learned from passages such as the following in "Hills Like White Elephants":
[The man says,] "We can have the whole world."
[Jig replies,] "No, we can't."
"We can go everywhere."
No, we can't. It isn't ours anymore.
"No, it isn't. And once they take it away, you never get it back." (SS 276)
At least the first "it" in this passage, spoken by Jig, refers to her lover's "whole world" something she perceives as already lost: "It isn't ours any more." For the man, "the whole world" seems only to mean a life of travel and pleasure: "We can go everywhere." Jig's indeterminate pronouns, however, along with her use of the present tense, imply her belief that his asking her to have an abortion has already diminished their lives. She insists over his protests that the world is no longer theirs. He says "It's ours" and she counters "No, it isn't." Her final two "its" in this passage encourage us to identify what has already been lost--love, integrity, and trust--with what may be lost, the baby. The last-quoted line--"And once they take it away, you never get it back"--also uses another indeterminate pronoun, "they," familiar to Hemingway's readers from A Farewell to Arms. Catherine Barkley, another woman facing a dangerous operation and the possible loss of her life, love, and unborn child, uses "they" to implicate nebulous, though menacing forces: "They've broken me.... They just keep it up until they break you"; Frederic Henry, the father of her child, likewise complains, "They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you" (FTA 323,327). Altogether, this brief passage highlighted by indeterminate pronouns distinguishes Hemingway's characters: Jig understands that the relationship has passed a point of no return. A moral and emotional catastrophe has already begun and is deepening, but her boyfriend does not understand.
Another very conspicuous kind of omission, central to "Hills Like White Elephants" and much of Carver's fiction, is the open ending. Many of my students are convinced that Jig will ride to Madrid and have an abortion, while others are certain that she will keep the child. In fact, the story, does not determine the baby's fate. (6) In my earlier writings on the ending of "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?," I saw a strong affirmation of the Wyman marriage. But although considerable evidence supports this view, I failed to account for a potentially threatening undercurrent. In the sentences that conclude the story, Ralph "tensed" as Marian touched him and then "let go a little":
It was easier to let go a little. Her hands moved over his hip and over his stomach and she was pressing her body over his now and moving over him and back and forth over him. He held himself, he later considered, as long as he could. And then he turned to her. He turned and turned in what might have been a stupendous sleep, and he was still turning, marveling at the impossible changes he felt moving over him. (Will You Please 251; emphasis added)
This ending seems extremely positive: the Wymans engage in reconciliatory sexual relations, a reunion given greater significance if one sees a subtle allusion to the text of Genesis through the prose's quasi-biblical rhythms and its echoes of the Spirit of God "mov[ing] upon the face of the waters" (1:2). Ralph, who is described with the word lifeless both on his honeymoon and during his argument with Marian (Will 235), appears symbolically reborn as a new man, more at ease with the flesh, embracing, not running from, carnal knowledge. We can argue, however, that one of the "impossible changes" Ralph feels is his willingness to accept that another man fathered his children. Such willingness would give Marian an unhealthy superiority in their relationship. Despite the allusion to Genesis, the conclusion relentlessly reminds readers that Marian is physically on top of Ralph, while the word "over" frequently associated with the end of relationships, is repeated six times.
Ultimately, Jonathan Eck's term, "semiopen," might best apply to the ending of "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" The text indicates physical and emotional connection between Marian and Ralph. Ralph's changes, moreover, while not explicitly defined, are described by words conveying powerfully positive connotations: "stupendous" and "marveling" (251). While in "Hills Like White Elephants" the couple's relationship seems to be over, the Wymans don't appear headed for divorce court anytime soon. Nevertheless, it is arbitrary or reductive to ignore the negative or menacing implications of the word "over" and Carver's emphasis on Ralph's subordinate position. These undercurrents form a subtle caveat or warning entirely consistent with the sensibility of a writer who, like Hemingway, posited happiness as tenuous at best.
Emphasizing Carver's reliance on indeterminacy, Marc Chenetier observes, "In all typographical justice, Carver's stories should open and close with question marks [...]," his endings "always whisper ling]," in the words of Samuel Beckett, "'Make sense who may. I switch off'" (Chenetier 176, 180). In truth, while complex, the conclusion of "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" is not impenetrable; nevertheless, many Carver stories raise ques tions left unresolved by their endings. Consider, for instance, the conclusion of "Gazebo":
"Duane" Holly goes. In this, too, she was right. (What We Talk About 29)
Earlier in the story, the reader learns that Duane has committed adultery, damaging his marriage to Holly, and it is very plausible, though not certain, that the two divorce after the story's conclusion. But what additional thing was Holly "right" about? Because the antecedent of "this" is locked away in Duane's alcohol-clouded mind, we can only guess at the meaning of the story's final and presumably important sentence. The ending of "Sacks" is similarly opaque. Having left his father's "sack of gifts" in an airport bar, Les Palmer opines:
Just as well. Mary didn't need candy, Almond Roca or anything else. That was last year. She needs it now even less. (What We Talk About 45)
Randolph Runyon speculates that Mary, Les's wife, is ill or dying (107-108). Runyon acknowledges, however, that the narrator's family might be suffering "the trauma of divorce" (108); perhaps Mary has no need for candy "or anything else" because, in divorce proceedings, she has seized Les's house and a Sizable portion of his pay for alimony. The omission behind the final line of "Sacks" cannot be confidently filled in nor is the conclusion of Carver's late gem, "Blackbird Pie," much clearer: "That's when it dawns on me that autobiography is the poor man's history," the narrator-college professor(?)-crazy man (?) opines. "And that I am saying good-bye to history. Good-bye, my darling" (Where I'm Calling From 511). Having earlier made an equation between his wife and history, the narrator says farewell to her and to his autobiography with apparent equanimity. However, a writer's acceptance of Silence is easily perceived as an acceptance of death, hence Naomi Matsuoka's claim that the narrator discusses "the end of his marriage as though it were the end of his life" and that "Blackbird Pie" concludes with the narrator's imminent "death" or "blackout of consciousness" (432, 436).
Although Adam Meyer rightly notes "a sense of equilibrium" in the narrator (159), this same figure has shown many signs of mental instability, so we cannot know what is truly happening as "Blackbird Pie" concludes. (7)
Influenced by T. S. Eliot's theory of the objective correlative and Ezra Pound's ideas about Imagism, sensing the power in the direct treatment of things, Hemingway created a journalistic-symbolic language in which external reality resonates with symbolic meaning. In "Cat in the Rain," for instance, a cat crouches under a table outside the American couple's window, "trying to make herself so compact that she would not be dripped on" (SS 167). The animal's cramped position relates symbolically to that of Hemingway's protagonists, especially the position of the overtly dissatisfied wife. "Hills Like White Elephants" is also replete with symbolic language, much of it traditional. The dry, barren land near Jig and the American echoes their relationship's emotional sterility. When Jig speaks indirectly about the enormity of abortion--"And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible"--she stands in the sunlight, while her morally obtuse partner beckons her to return to the shade and moral darkness (SS 276). Although Carver has been accused of being a simplistic realist, (8) he too employs a sophisticated mimetic symbolism, language functioning referentially to describe an event or object with symbolic implications. In "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?," a "huge neon-lighted clam shell with a man's legs sticking out" adorning the exterior of a restaurant and bar is an objective correlative of Ralph's fear of women (Will You Please 242), while a "rack of antlers" inside the establishment is a traditional symbolic emblem for the cuckold (243). In "Careful" "the roof slant[s] down sharply" and Lloyd must "duck his head" when walking in his apartment (Where I'm Calling From 264), the physical space creating an objective correlative of his imprisonment inside alcoholism. Employing a technique found in "Hills Like White Elephants" as well as in "Cat in the Rain," Carver's "Little Things" foreshadows a baby's injury or death from child abuse with traditional symbolism: outside "it was getting dark. But it was getting dark on the inside too" (Where I'm Calling From 152). (9)
In Technique and Sensibility in the Fiction and Poetry of Raymond Carver, I argue that Carver differs from Hemingway "in the degree that the word, as opposed to the object denoted by the word, can acquire astonishing meaning-creating power. A realist such as Hemingway might transform the object chair into a powerful symbol; if it suited his purposes, Carver would turn the word into a key signifier" (269). Given that many serious writers in the 1960s and 1970s emphasized turning language away from the external world and inward towards itself or other texts, it makes sense that Carver, who developed during this period, would rely more heavily on nonmimetic technique. (10) Maybe he does; nevertheless, I clearly underestimated the importance of the nonmimetic in Hemingway's work, especially in "Hills Like White Elephants," where the status of the hills as an object is much less important than the titular simile "like white elephants." Through this simile, Hemingway subtly suggests his protagonists' differing views on abortion: the American regards the fetus as expensive and unwanted, while Jig senses the sacredness that Indians associate with white elephants. (11)
The threat implicit in the repetition of "over" at the end of "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" illustrates a nonmimetic technique. A more striking example of the nonmimetic in Carver's work occurs in "What's in Alaska?", where cream soda, as an object understood literally, has nothing to do with sexuality, but the slang meaning of "cream"(semen; to have orgasm) places cream Soda within a textual pattern that defines a sexual affair's existence and triviality. The nonmimetic importance of cream soda, then, lies not in its reference to objective reality but in how its connotations relate to other parts of Carver's text. (12) "Menudo," one of Carver's final stories, uses a different form of the nonmimetic. Although the narrator's life is in disarray, "Menudo" suggests, through its use of names, that unlike the typical Carver character, he may be able to order his life. The story hints at the importance of names early on: "When Amanda's name came up, I insisted it wasn't her. Vicky suspects, but I wouldn't name names" (Where I'm Calling From 455). The narrator conspicuously avoids mentioning his own name; more than half of the story passes before he indirectly reveals his identity by stating his wife's name--Vicky Kraft-Hughes (466). Hughes's second and final act of self-identification is more direct, and occurs at a particularly vital moment. He is raking his neighbors' lawn when Mrs. Baxter greets him with "'Good morning, Mr. Hughes'" (470). This seemingly insignificant reference--names are typically used in greetings--has a unique importance within the text; an importance created by the fact that the name is used only once and placed at the story's conclusion. Because Carver typically aligns the nameless with the powerless, (13) Hughes's final assertion of his name implies that he has the strength to confront his paramour Amanda and reorder his life. Here Carver's nonmimetic technique is to supercharge the banal utterance--"Good morning, Mr. Hughes"--with a single use and strategic placement of the remark.
Symbolic resonance is also found in both Hemingway's and Carver's use of numbers. The key number in "Hills Like White Elephants" is two, used twice in the opening paragraph and ten times overall. The text refers to "two lines of rails"; the couple's next train is scheduled to stop for two minutes; they order two beers which are placed on two felt pads, and then later two glasses of Anis del Toro; Jig holds two strings of beads; the American carries two heavy bags (SS 273-275, 277). Some of these objects are symbolically suggestive. For instance, the heavy bags suggest the weariness the American feels about his relationship with Jig, while the bitter taste of Anis del Toro Underscores the acrimony implicit in their conversation. In addition to these possible meanings, however, Hemingway clearly wanted to evoke the idea of two-ness, (14) the repetition of two helping to explain why many readers feel that Jig will abort her child despite her qualms. Life with the American is a rootless, peripatetic existence of two with no room for a baby.
If "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" has a key number, it is three. The story has three numbered sections and references, and when Ralph gambles, he spends three dollars for three poker chips. As I argue in Technique, and Sensibility, Carver sometimes uses three as a subtle allusion to the Christian tradition. At times, the tension between religious allusion and the banal--as in the story "Vitamins," when we compare the Trinity to "[t]hree spades [...] against an old Chrysler that had a cracked windshield"--fits a pattern denying the possibility of any kind of redemption (Where I'm Calling From 255; my emphasis). In other works such as "Wes Hardin: From a Photograph" and "A Small, Good Thing," references to three, while not related to Christian redemptive theology, are nonetheless used by Carver to affirm a greater sense of human worth. In "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?," the poker chips link the number three to chance, perhaps to reinforce the idea that the text has a nonteleological vision. In keeping with such a vision, "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" concludes by invoking not the possibility of eternal life but the more limited rebirth of Ralph Wyman as a man more at ease with his own and his wife's carnality.
In 1987, having established himself as one of the more important American writers of the 1970s and 1980s, Carver reportedly said that Hemingway was not much of an influence because he, Carver, did not write fishing stories (qtd. in Durante 195). Notwithstanding this ironical jab and his parody, "The Aficionados," written almost thirty years earlier, Carver typically lauded his precursor's work, even acknowledging: "'I suppose the influence on my fiction would be the early stories by Hemingway'" (qtd. in Schumacher 222). While Carver may have sought to distance himself from Hemingway in the 1987 interview, (15) his work continued to reveal a debt. Of "Cat in the Rain," Carver observed: "' [T]here's a detail that sticks in my head [the husband is] lying on a bed reading a book, but his head's at the foot of the bed, and his feet are at the headboard'" (qtd. in Pope and McElhinny 17). The detail stuck in Carver's head until he echoed it in one of his final stories, "Whoever Was Using This Bed," positioning a husband and wife "sitting on the part of the bed where" they "keep" their "feet when" they "sleep" (Where I'm Calling From 439) to suggest that their marriage, like the relationship in "Cat in the Rain," is out of sorts. However much Carver may have distanced himself from Hemingway thematically or ideologically, he rarely strayed far from Hemingway's techniques.
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ARTHUR F. BETHEA
Portions of this essay have appeared previously in my book, Technique and Sensibility in the Fiction and Poetry of Raymond Carver.
(1.) Because the story was published shortly after Hemingway's suicide, "The Aficionados" can be seen as very mean-spirited. However, Maryann Carver's recent biography, What It Used to Be Like: A Portrait of My Marriage to Raymond Carver, suggests that the story was written in 1958, almost three years before Hemingway died (84). Carver can be fairly accused of some hypocrisy, nevertheless, for "The Aficionados" also parodies "Hills Like White Elephants," a story containing much of the minimalist technique that he employed. Transforming Hemingway's titular simile, the upstart Carver describes hills that are like "great-breasted reclining women" (Stull, "Remembered" 467).
The satire of "The Aficionados" prefigured Carver's general disassociation from Hemingway's sensibility, a phenomenon often observed by critics. Carver's student at Syracuse, the contemporary novelist Jay McInerney, sees a rejection of Hemingway's "romantic egoism" (120). Contrasting Hemingway's "After the Storm" and Carver's "After the Denim," James Plath infers a subtle "undercutting [of] Hemingway's essential machismo and romanticism" (38). Referring to "Big Two-Hearted River," Graham Clarke argues that every "act by Nick reinscribes his part within the larger unity [of nature]: an ideal purity of being in which American man is wholly free from social, historical, and political complications" (109-110). In stories such as "The Cabin," however, Carver "deconstructs the codifying myths" and "exposes their pretensions to significance" (Clarke 110).
(2.) The issue of the American girl's longings is, Edwin Barton would argue, deeper than my gloss suggests: Are, readers "meant to consider the possibility that the American wife/girl had been pregnant before [?]" Are we "meant to understand that she is incapable of bearing children, either because she (or her husband) has proved infertile or because of complications owing to a miscarriage or abortion[?]" Biographer Peter Griffin notes that Hemingway worked on the story after he stopped having sex with his pregnant wife. Griffin argues that the American girl's desire for a "wet pussy," the cat in the rain, is an ironic, scatological representation of Hemingway's sexual frustrations.
(3.) I define "minimalism" as a style privileging economy, simple diction, clear syntax, and omission, making no attempt--such as commentary from an omniscient narrator--to provide an authoritative meaning for the presented experience. In his theory of minimalism, Kirk Curnutt links Carver's fiction to an additional technique, the manipulation of tense (233-244). Curnutt emphasizes, moreover, minimalism's connection to "a basic theme: the failure of the spoken word" (246). Many other definitions of minimalism go beyond technique: for instance, Michael Trussler's description of minimalism as a postmodern tributary of metawriting, Barbara Henning's association of the concept with the working class and the repudiation of the American dream, and Sven Birkerts's subsequent linking of minimalism to "uneasy portraits of American middle-class domesticity." Believing that "minimalist" "smacks of smallness of vision and execution" Carver preferred the term "precisionist" (qtd. in Simpson and Buzbee 44). Most Carver scholars reject either the term "minimalism" or its application to Carver. For instance, Kirk Nesset observes that minimalism functions "as a tenacious, flypaper trap ensnaring scores of writers, writers as like unto each other as airplanes and sparrows and gnats" (30). For the most vigorous defense of the term, see Cynthia Hallett's Minimalism and the Short Story--Raymond Carver, Amy Hempel, and Mary Robison (7-41).
(4.) According to Curnutt, Hemingway "offered several versions" of his theory of omission, but this theorizing "rarely determined how" he "actually shortened his stories" (6, 7).
(5.) Jon Powell first raised the issue of Ralph's anxiety over the paternity of his children (648-650).
(6.) As Nilofer Hashmi observes, scholars have disagreed about the baby's future: "Three different scenarios have been seriously considered: the girl will have the abortion (albeit reluctantly) and stay with the man; the girl will have the abortion and leave the man; or, the girl will not have the abortion, having won the man over to her point of view." Hashmi subsequently argues for a fourth result: "the girl will indeed have the abortion, expecting in this way to stay on with the man, but after the operation has been performed, he will abandon her." I agree with David Wyche, who holds that "any definitive interpretation" regarding "the fate of Jig's baby" is "unlikely."
The concept of omission has been applied to "Hills White Elephants" in ways beyond the text's open ending, its deliberate indeterminate pronouns, and the omission of central terms like baby or abortion. An excellent case in point is Margaret Bauer's analysis setting the story in the context of Hemingway's earlier writing and the devastation of World War I. Bauer postulates that the American, like Krebs in "Soldier's Home," is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and thus is not emotionally ready for marriage and fatherhood. Viewed in this light, the American is a far more sympathetic character.
(7.) The open ending of "The Bath," the most famous in Carver's short fiction, is a poor example to cite to illustrate Carver's technique. Although the story labors to create a menacing ambiguity-is Ann Weiss being called by the hospital with the dreadful news that her son has died, or is she being tormented once again by a crank caller?--Carver's editor Gordon Lish wrote the ending, and Carver subsequently repudiated "The Bath," calling it "a minor league effort" (qtd. in Boddy, "Conversation" 200).
(8.) See Charles Newman, for instance, who crowns Carver "King of New Realism" a realm described in exceedingly disparaging terms (93-94).
(9.) In "Cat in the Rain" "It [is] getting dark" before the wife lists her desires and her husband tells her to shut up (SS 169).
(10.) Mimetic meaning springs from language representing physical and mental realities. I use nonmimetic to encompass alternate strategies of creating meaning, including the use of connotation rather than denotation in deploying vocabulary, the strategic placement of elements within a text, the reference of elements to other parts of the same text, and allusions to other works by the same or different authors.
(11.) The reference to "white elephants" has been interpreted in various ways, Paul Rankin arguing, for instance, that Jig sees the American as the white elephant to be discarded. In Hashmi's interpretation, viewed from the American's perspective, Jig and the baby she carries are the white elephants to be thrown away.
(12.) For more analysis of the unusual sexual symbolism in "What's in Alaska?" related to "cream soda," see Bethea, Technique and Sensibility 44-48.
(13.) "Fat," "Night School," and "Collectors" are some of the Carver stories illustrating this phenomenon.
(14.) Hemingway uses this technique in A Farewell to Arms. Catherine's doctor instructs Frederic Henry to turn the gas machine to "numeral two," and when she asks for pain relief, Henry "turned the dial to number two" (317). Later, as her pain increases, he turns "the dial to three and then four," wishing "the doctor would come back" because Henry is "afraid of the numbers above two" (323). Henry's remark reflects his fear of the baby's arrival.
(15.) Carver's remarks to Francesco Durante may reflect his desire to be viewed as the heir of Chekhov, his favorite writer. Kasia Boddy ("Companion-Souls"), Genevieve Later (43-48), Lionel Kelly, and William Stull (,Raymond Carver") have described Carver's literary debt here, citing, among other things, comparable proletarian sympathies. Chekhov's influence on Carver is undeniable; the posthumously published A New Path to the Waterfall integrates many passages of Chekhov's prose with Carver's poetry. Nevertheless, Hemingway had a greater influence on Carver's fiction, and certainly on his technique.
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|Author:||Bethea, Arthur F.|
|Publication:||The Hemingway Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2007|
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