Reality is a powerful source of inspiration for writers in the 20th century. For Raymond Carver the American reality of the working class served as the main source of inspiration for his short stories that fall into the dirty – realism literary style. A technique that is representative for this current and that Carver subtly masters in his short stories is the insertion of objects into the narration, attributing them the value of reflecting the reality through familiar descriptions of the working class American society’s lifestyle. In Carver’s narration the objects tell stories, unite people in the same universe of the common existence, wherein a simple ashtray or a rock has similar connotations for the representatives of the social class that the writer describes. This research proposal provides a brief account on the development of the research paper, focused on defining the importance of objects in Raymond Carver’s short stories as narrative devices of enlightenment into the American society, representing epiphanies of everyday life.
Key words: American reality, working class, dirty – realism, short stories, objects.
Raymond Carver – Objects as the Epiphanies of Every Day Life in the American Working Class
Raymond Carver’s short story literature has been often associated with Ernest Hemingway’s style, as he uses simple but powerful words to convey reality (Bethea, 2001). Such words that carry the strength of describing the real existence are, in Carver’s narration, the objects. They hold symbolical value and reach the realm of surrealism, as Carver incorporates objects in his short – stories for expressing the epiphanies of everyday life in American society. Carver’s work has been classified as representative for the “dirty - realism” literary current, due to his brutal style of reflecting the world around him and his own world, using plain words and objects that belong to the daily living. Objects represent a significant literary device in Carver’s literary universe, being intentionally utilized in specific contexts for underlying the enlightenment on the daily existence of the working class American society.
I.1 Research Objectives
Through a theoretical analyzes of the existent literature, the proponent of the research paper aims to review various theories that will shape an understanding regarding the role of objects in Carver’s short stories as symbols of epiphanies of everyday life. The objective of the research is to indicate how the author uses specific objects to define real life meanings and how he incorporates objects in specific contexts for reflecting the revelation of daily existence among his characters, symbols of the American society. A secondary objective that emerges from the previous is to understand what is the relationship between the literary use of objects in Carver’s prose and the classification of his narrative style as representative for the dirty – realism literary current.
1.2 Research Questions
How does Carver use objects as narrative devices of enlightenment into the working class American society?
Does the Carvian short-story universe reflect the dirty – realism through objects? How?
The presence of the objects in Raymond Carver’s short story reflect epiphanies of everyday life because they are part of the Americans’ natural and continuous existence, part of the author’s own existence, as he is the main source of inspiration for the dirty-realism prose conveyed in his short stories.
In Raymond Carver’s short stories the objects possess sound, resonance and texture, having the strength to accurately reflect the reality of the working class, blue collar American society (Lehman, 2006; Hapke, 2001). In “Viewfinder”, the rocks that the narrator throws at the world, while sitting on the roof of his house, are a reflection of the alienation, expressing the rejection of the social values and standards. The rocks communicate anger and they talk about the feeling of not belonging (Lehman, 2006). While they may be the author’s representations of his personal response to the inner struggles, the rocks thrown at the world can also suggest the common men’s difficulty in accepting their role in the society. Bethea (2001) finds the rock throwing episode as cathartic, liberator, allowing the narrator to move on with his life after expressing his anger, while Lehman (2006) also perceives the rock throwing as an act of releasing the negative energy caused by the realization of social impotency.
Lehman (2006) points that Carver intentionally uses objects in his narration, for conveying the common reality, with its repetitiveness, monotone existence and perpetual sameness. The dog’s behavior in “The Bath”, continuously spinning “in circles on the grass”, as well as the circular car ticking or the phone ringing and interrupting the bath of Weiss couple (Carver, year, p. 56), talk about the everyday circular living. The circles on the grass, the car ticking, the phone ringing represent real life objects that describe the monotonous reality of the Americans’ existence. Such textual descriptions of the role of objects in humans’ daily life portray a revelation or a sudden illumination on the human condition (Leypoldt, 2001). The realization of his limits and the epiphany on his existence pushed the narrator in “Viewfinder” to throwing rocks at unknown people from the roof of his house, making the rocks a symbol of humans’ anger against their own incapacities (Lehman, 2006).
Amir (2010) notes that Carver contextualizes the objects, situating them in a space that reflects the human environment, implying human presence. By contextualizing the objects in human surroundings, Carver attributes memory to the objects that he presents in his short stories, positioning them as witnesses of the daily existence. As the described objects are situated in the context of the working class American family, they capture the memory of the American individuals who imprint their experiences while using the objects, recirculating their meaning and signification and attributing them a social sense. Like this, the literary objects from Carver’s short stories represent a literary device for illustrating the enlightenment on the American society’s lifestyle, with the afferent emotions and relationship that characterize it (Parvaneh & Hashemi, 2014).
In a world of fiction, the objects that Carver introduces in his stories provide the connection with reality, assuring a two-ways transference and interaction of the experiences from the real life with the ones from the fictional world (Parvaneh & Hashemi, 2014). Referring to the reality portrayed in his writing through the use of objects, Bethea (2001) observes that Carver uses denotation for tracing the meaning of particular objects in the real life. The scholar observes that Carver’s objects capture a textual pattern that suggests how relationships and communication are manifested within the world that he portrays, indicating that in “What’s in Alaska”, cream soda is a key signifier describing a sexual experience with climax (cream; Bethea, 2001). “That cream soda will never come out” (Carver, year, p.n.) is Carl’s observation, one of Carver’s characters from “What’s in Alaska”, as he was accidentally stained with cream soda. This observation seems to symbolize that the object (cream soda) is entrenched in the character’s life through the stain that it caused, but it also induces the idea of dirtiness, specific to the dirty-realism style (De Ferrari, 2012). Bufford (1983) describes the dirty realism as a fiction focused on capturing the local nuances, the subtle language and gesture disturbances that appear in the lives of blue collars living in poor conditions, drinking and watching TV, reflecting the accurate and discomforting reality. The social nuances of the ashtray, cream soda or the car ticking from Carver’s short – stories relate to this description, as they carry symbolical meanings for the blue collar Americans living in modest conditions (Amir, 2010; Bethea, 2001; Lehman, 2006). As a literary device, the objects are used in Carver’s narration for talking about the lives of underprivileged American population. This technique makes Carver a fierce representative of the dirty – realism literature, for conveying, through familiar and commonplace objects, emotions, frustrations, hardships, relationships with which the readers associate (Leypoldt, 2001).
The manner in which Carver manipulates the objects in his narrations is at the crossroad between accuracy (direct descriptions) and symbolism, as they suggest another, hidden meaning for them, beyond their practical role in the lives of the American characters (Lehman, 2006). This blurred demarcation line between accurate reality and symbolism prompted Zavarzadeh (1976) to classify the way in which Carver uses his objects as ambiguous, unpredictable and disordered. Craver himself explains his technique of using objects in narrations as a strategy to “bring to life the details that will light up the story for the reader” (Carver, 1981, para 17). In other words, the writer creates stories for an audience that identifies with the characters and with their experiences. Carver creates this association in a subtle manner, by incorporating familiar objects in his stories, with which the readers resonate.
In relation to Bethea’s claim that objects are identifiers of the types of human relationships, Amir (2010) further suggests that Carver uses objects as literary devices for describing the relationship between couples in a homemade environment. Amir (2010) reminds about significance of a familiar object in defining human relationship, by referring to Carver’s short story “A Serious Talk”, wherein an ashtray becomes the symbol of a relationship that evolved beyond love, becoming a consuming fire.
Carver’s utilization of objects in his writings is considered forecasting an imminent catastrophe, as they define the possession of goods that can be taken away, announcing a decaying existence (Parvaneh & Hashemi, 2014). In “Elephant”, Carver tells the story of a narrator confronted with economic challenges for having to support his former wife, pay for his son’ college, help his mother and his brother (Carver, 1988). Confronted with this situation, in the context of having a modest job, the narrator realizes: “So I started cutting back  I couldn’t buy clothes or get my teeth fixed. The car was falling part. I needed new shoes, but forgot it” (Carver, 1988, p. 364). The epiphany of the decaying American society comes from the understanding of the daily life existence through the surrounding objects. Clothes, car, shoes represent objects of possession that generate losses when they can no longer be afforded, generating for the character of the “Elephant” an enlightenment on his decadence, further accumulating frustrations for acknowledging the downward trajectory of his life (Amir, 2012; Lehman, 2006). The narrator’s incapacity to afford decent objects that used to be a part of his life translates the decadence of the American working class.
III.1 Research Method
The research paper will be based on a qualitative research design, pertaining to the intuitive epistemological method, meant to generate knowledge, justified with theoretical research. The proposed research method for this study is the literature review, which supposes a thorough desktop documentation on the chosen topic, deciding upon the incorporated references based on key words identified in reputable sources (Williams, 2003). Online journals, articles, and books will be analyzed for finding coherent content to respond to the research questions. The proponent of the research will incorporate the references, creating correlations between their contents, in order to draw literary theories, criticism and opinions about the investigated issues.
III.2 Data Analysis
The data gathered through the literature review process will be submitted to an interpretative and logical analysis. The author will perform the analysis applying critical thinking and analytical reasoning, arguing, debating and explaining how the collected data (reviewed literature) contributes to either supporting or refuting the hypothesis.
This research proposal created a skeletal presentation of the research paper, describing and presenting the objectives, research question and a hypothesis, which will be tested through a complex literature review methodology. In an incipient form, the collected sources that compose the schematic literature review indicate that Raymond Carver uses objects as a literary device for surprising the revelation of everyday life in the American society. The author mostly focuses on the working class, describing, through the use of objects, the blue collars’ relationships, their hardships, their frustrations or emotions, which are indications of the dirty-realism in Carver’s short stories.
Amir, A. 2010. The visual poetics of Raymond Carver. Plymouth: Lexington Books.
Bethea, A.F. 2001. Technique and sensibility in the fiction and poetry of Raymond Carver. New York: Routledge.
Carver, R. 1981. A storyteller’s shoptalk. [online] Available at < https://www.nytimes.com/books/01/01/21/specials/carver-shoptalk.html > [Accessed 16 July 2015.]
Carver, Raymond. 1988. Will you please be quiet, please? Knopf Doubleday Publishing.
De Ferrari, G. 2012. Vulnerable states: Bodies of memory in contemporary Caribbean fiction. Virginia: University of Virginia Press.
Hapke, L. 2001. Labor’s text: The worker in American fiction. New Jersey: Library of Congress.
Lehman, D.W. (2006) “Symbolic significance in the stories of Raymond Carver”. Journal of the Short Story in English. Vol. 46 Spring edition, pp. 75 -88.
Leypoldt, G. 2001. “Raymond Carver’s ‘epiphanic moments’” Style. Vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 531 – 547.
Parvaneh, F. & Hashemi, M. 2014. “Post – Industrial universe in Raymond Carver’s selected short stories: Reificaion of subjects” Inernational Journal of Languages and Literature. Vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 265 – 283.
Williams, M. 2003. Making sense of social research. London: SAGE Publications Inc.
Zavarzadeh, M. 1976. The mythopoeic reality. Ilinois: University of Illinois.