Talking about love.
What is love? It may seem like a stupid question, but on second examination, it doesn’t seem quite so stupid. After all, love is a feeling. How can we really describe what a feeling is or means? The meaning of any feeling can differ greatly between individuals, and the meaning of love is no different. In “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” Raymond Carver weaves a tale of two couples examining what love is. While Carver doesn’t reveal any great truths about what love is, he does make a statement about the nature of true love. Carver makes the point that modern, on-again, off-again relationships have little to do with love. True love is about needing someone so badly that it’s unbearable to think of life without that person. There is a fine line between true love and obsession; the former being one of the most wonderful feelings that humans can experience, and the latter many times ending in tragedy. Carver makes these points in the story through his use of subplot, imagery, and symbolism.
The most obvious technique Carver uses in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” to make his point is through the subplots in the story. The subplots revolve around the two main couples in the story, and another couple that is introduced by one of the characters near the end of the story. The first couple, Mel and Terri, had been in very bad relationships before meeting one another. They have been together for five years, and married for four. Mel’s marriage to his ex-wife Marjorie apparently ended on a very bad note. Carver states near the end of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” “’She’s allergic to bees,’ Mel said. ‘If I’m not praying she’ll get married again, I’m praying she’ll get herself stung to death by a swarm of fucking bees” (444). Clearly whatever love Mel once felt for his ex-wife has evaporated. Terri also suffered through a bad relationship at the hands of an abusive man named Ed. Terri and Mel argue over Terri’s belief that Ed really did love her, though not in a way that was healthy to her or to Ed. After Terri and Ed separated, Ed made threats against Terri and Mel, and finally committed suicide. The second couple, Nick and Laura, had both been previously married to other people. Carver doesn’t state the circumstances surrounding their subsequent divorces, and only states that they met at work and started a relationship that led to marriage. Carver describes Nick and Laura as “still on the Honeymoon” (439). They are still at the point in their relationship where they are very affectionate toward one another, which contrasts with Mel and Terri’s somewhat grating remarks to each other. In “Carver’s Couples Talk About Love,” Fred Moramarco describes the relationship between Nick and Laura as a “relationship of what we might call ‘lite intimacy’.” Referring to Carver’s description of Laura as being “easy to be with” (439), Moramarco states, “This is the ideal contemporary relationship—between a man and a woman who are friends as well as lovers, and the operative word here is ‘easy.’ We all seek easy relationships, but the real world keeps intruding.” Carver seems to describe both couples as being together more because of convenience, rather than any strong need or desire to be with each other. Moramarco refers to this situation as “Serial, transient love.” During the course of the conversation, Mel introduces the third couple later in the story, by telling Nick and Laura a story about them. Moramarco describes the way in which they are compared with the other two couples: “Both Mel and Terri on the one hand, and Nick and Laura on the other—as well as Mel and Marjorie and...
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