The Elusiveness of Love and Devotion
Reading from What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
The nature of love remains elusive throughout “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” despite the characters’ best efforts to define it. Mel McGinnis – The Nonsensical Talker
The first thing we learn about Mel McGinnis is that he’s a cardiologist—a heart doctor. Of the four characters in the story, Mel, by virtue of his profession, would seem to be the one most likely to have some insight into matters of the heart. Indeed, he talks more than anyone else about love and has the strongest opinions. Yet despite the fact that Mel talks a lot, he doesn’t seem to know more than anyone else about love. As he keeps drinking and talking, his strong statements blur into confusing ramblings that don’t seem to make much of a point. He knows the story about the elderly couple is important, but he can’t explain exactly why. He knows his thoughts about past and future loves are meaningful, but the way he describes them makes him sound confused and nonsensical. Mel has two children with his ex-wife, Marjorie, whom he now hates. And his apparent desire to kill his ex-wife with swarms of bees suggests that, far from being an expert on love, Mel knows absolutely nothing about it. The following is an important quotation from the story: “And the terrible thing, the terrible thing is, but the good thing too, the saving grace, you might say, is that if something happened to one of us tomorrow, I think . . . the other person, would grieve for a while, you know, but then the surviving party would go out and love again, have someone else soon enough.” Mel makes this comment roughly halfway through the story, after he has told everyone that he’ll explain to them what love really is. Far from clarifying the matter, Mel instead points out what he considers to be love’s greatest mysteries—where love goes when one person stops loving the other and how it’s possible to fall in love again with someone new. Mel says that he knows he used to love Marjorie, his ex-wife, even though he hates her now, and he points out that Terri, Nick, and Laura have all loved other people in their pasts as well. Mel is genuinely disturbed by the mysteries he voices here; he doesn’t even know whether what he says is “terrible” or the “saving grace.” At the beginning of the story, we learn that Mel believes love is spiritual and spent five years in a seminary. His use of the phrase “saving grace” here suggests that he is invoking the divine to make sense of a difficult subject. Mel’s comments also mark a turning point in the discussion about love as the discussion becomes more series and intense for him, despite the fact that he later claims that the four are all “just talking.” This quotation reveals Mel’s struggle to understand love and his fear that love is less permanent than he would like to believe. Mel tries again and again to pinpoint the meaning of love, but his examples never build up to any coherent conclusion. For example, he tells his friends about an elderly couple who nearly died in a car crash, but the conclusion of the story—the old man depressed by not being able to see his wife—merely confuses everyone. When he asserts that he’ll tell everyone exactly what love is, he instead digresses into a muddled meditation about how strange it is that he and the others have loved more than one person. His attempts to clarify the nature of love eventually devolve into a bitter tirade against his ex-wife. He seems much more certain about what love is not and tells Terri several times that if abusive love is true love, then she “can have it.” Terri - The One Who Has Firm but Disturbing Idea About Love
Although no one in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” seems to have a firm idea of what love really is, Terri, Mel’s wife, does have some extreme and somewhat disturbing opinions. One of the most detailed tales told around the...
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