Disjunction vs. Communion in Raymond Carver's Short Stories
poet, essayist, and short story writer, was very different from some other writers in that he clipped his writing until only the essential remained. « Carver not only acknowledged the effect that fiction could have on readers, he proclaimed that it should affect readers.»( Bonetti 58) Thus, when Carver writes about intimate relationships, the reader perceives the stories as more than entertainment or skillful language; the reader relates to the characters' situations and applies the knowledge to their own lives. It is within this realm of character affirmation that Carver draws a much more elaborate, and meaningful detail in his short stories. I propose that Carver's characters either connect or fail to connect on an intimate, spiritual level. It is this difference in his short stories which either draw the reader into or away from the meaning. These relations make certain writings in Carver's stories more interesting.
More directly, it is the communion in his later writings, and the disjunction in his earlier writings, that distinguish the two types of styles. Communion within the characters of Carver's later writings, as in his collections in Cathedral, create much more depth and interest in his stories. It is within this scope of communion that Carver's stories seem to become more fulfilling with character affirmation.
Communion occurs in Carver's stories when several conditions are satisfied. The difference in the two criteria; communion and disjunction, is simply defined. «Communion, n 1. A sharing of thoughts or feelings 2. a A religious or spiritual fellowship.» (Websters, 141) It is a connection between characters which allows them to transcend the ordinary and redefine themselves. A moment in which words, actions, and objects take on exaggerated significance. Carver uses this bond between characters in his later writings more directly, such as in his anthology Cathedral. You must first initialize an intimate interaction between two or more characters who can communicate---either verbally or physically. If an individual is still projecting his/her personality onto another, that individual has not experienced the loss of self-awareness which is necessary for communion. Another important element for this experience is touch. The characters who gain understanding of each other, touch on another. It is within these guidelines that I find Carvers stories to be more interesting.
Disjointed on the other hand is near similarity in communion, in that it contains the seed of communion which failed to grow. The protagonist achieves some measure of success only to falter. Disjunction occurs when an opportunity exists for the characters to change their lives in a small, spiritual way, and they are unable to seize it. Even with the spiritual isolation that many of Carvers characters hold, disjunction blocks me from the stories in that it leaves me unfulfilled, distracts me from the main point. The transgression of characters within stories, gives reader a greater insight into a spiritual change of some sort, the lack thereof leaves something missing in the story. A more influential meaning is gained when a connection of some sort is maid between characters. As Carver said in a interview later in his life,» In fiction that matters the signifigance of the action inside the story translates to the lives of the people out side the story» ( Davis 658)
Carver's life, or biography, bares a little insight into his phases, or different stages in which he wrote his different types of stories and poems. Carver lived most of his life in a world which could not provide the luxury of spiritual affirmation. He grew up in Clatskanie, Oregon to working class-parents in a alcoholic home where reading material was limited to Zane Gray novels, and the newspaper. Following high school, Carver married his pregnant high school sweet hart. His drinking became heavier. A list of meaningless jobs followed, in which writing only provided a emotional outlet. During this time, Carver's hard life may have instigated the disjunction he portrayed in his earlier writings. Poverty and family problems continually interrupted his work. Carver was constantly broke, filled for bankruptcy twice, and was fired from his white collar job as a result of alcoholism. In 1977 he received a National Book award nomination and had several stories published in various magazines and book presses.
After 1977, when he met his second wife, Carver stopped drinking. This is when his stories of disjunction become more developed. He published several collections including What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. In May of 1983, Knopf published Cathedral, Carvers third major book of short stories. This is where communion is illustrated in its more explicate form. Unfortunately, due to poor health Carver could not further communion in his writings, he became to sick to write. In the fall of 1987 doctors diagnosed cancer and removed two-thirds of his left lung, later the cancer moved to his brain where he underwent chemotherapy treatments. In early June, the cancer reappeared. On August 2, 1988 Raymond Carver died in his new house in Port Angeles, Washington. In an interview with critic William Stull, he explains about a connection between fiction and reality.
I'm interested in the personal intimate relationships in life so why not deal with these relationships in
literature?...little experiences are important underpinnings in our daily lives...They are, after all, something that we all share-as readers, writers, and human beings...I don't think there should be any barriers, artificial or otherwise, between life and it's written about. (Stull, « Matters» 180)
The major task of my argument is to explain the reasons I feel Communion is more significant. Similarly mentioned above, communion occurred later in Carvers life therefore most of my argument shall be identifying with such stories as « The Bridle « and « Cathedral» which seem to illustrate communion in its most explicit form. Carvers earlier writings cope with disjunction in various collections, such as in « Gazebo» and «Sacks», yet not all seem to exemplify disjunction totally. Disjunction personifies a empty shell in the characters, both spiritually and intimately.
Communion; oppositely, entices the reading, it shares a « communion « between reader and character.
Disjunction occurs only when an opportunity exists for a change in a character's life in a small, spiritual way, and they are unable to seize it. Many of the characters in earlier writings cannot seize spiritual affirmation because they cannot escape their isolation. This isolation creates a barrier against the readers interaction within the story. Thus, at the moment of disjunction they remain spiritually unchanged, provoking a loss in interaction between reader and story. The underlying reason for a character's failure is usually an inability to articulate the desire to change. The end result of this lack of intimacy is that the characters exist like shells, without any care into their own lives or relationships with others. This emptiness leaves the reader coming up empty handed when seeking the motivation to pursue the story.
The story « Gazebo», from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, contains a excellent example of disjunction. The story opens in a motel suite, where the two main characters Duane and Holly, are drinking alcohol and hashing out their marital problems. They end up generally stop caring for one another and realize their « days are numbered, « both as hotel managers and as a married couple. In the last few paragraphs, the couple decide the fate of their marriage. Disjunction occurs when Duane attempts to convince Holly that they have fond memories of the hotel. Holly does not respond because she has surrendered hope of changing their circumstances. « I pray for a sign from Holly. I pray for Holly to show me.»(29) Paralyzed, Duane desperately wants to communicate with his wife. Although he prays, it is not a spiritual connection between God. Holly's desire to leave for Nevada comes full circle as the lack of communication between the two is dissolved.
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