Short and Sweet

Short and Sweet
A Critical Analysis of
Raymond Carver’s Short Story
Little Things
( read the story )

by Thomas Jay Rush

At 502 words, Raymond Carver’s short story Little Things packs a wallop. The story revolves around two, apparently young people who are breaking up. They have a newborn baby. As the story opens the man is packing a bag – moving out – the women yells at him saying “I’m glad you’re leaving”.

During the fight the women picks up the picture of the baby that he has laid on the bed. I believe this is a fateful act. The man’s reaction to her taking that picture is to say he wants to take the baby. I don’t think he wanted the baby before she said that – that’s why he had a picture of the baby on the bed as he was packing – but after she takes the picture he wants the baby.

This women, we never learn her name, is a bitch – we don’t learn exactly what the man has done but he’s probably also an asshole of some sort. The baby, an innocent, is the one who suffers from their vitriol.

Once the argument turns nasty – over the baby – the author shows his skill. He deftly leads the reader into a scene of increasing tension. The baby – a beautiful, innocent, sweet baby – is put in danger. This is a brave thing for an author to do. Some writers may shy away from putting a baby in danger for the sake of his literary creation – not so Carver.

The argument moves into the kitchen, near a stove. The women holds the baby over the stove and of course the reader fears that the baby will be burned. The stove is mentioned three times as the argument rages. In a wonderful example of raising the tension in a story the author says “The kitchen window gave no light.” We (as the reader) is reminded about a comment in the first paragraph that there is a “shoulder-high window” in the kitchen. The focus of our fear shifts from the stove to the window. Will the child get burned or fall out of the window.

In the end we do not know exactly what happens to the baby. Carver leaves the issue ambiguous. It is pretty clear though that the baby is hurt but we don’t know if it fell out of the window, got burned by the stove or if these two assholes tore the baby limb-from-limb. We are left to decide for ourselves what is the worst thing that could have happened to the baby. The story ends with the very vague statement “In this matter the issue was decided.”

This story is very short. I feel that it could have been a little bit longer. I would have liked, for example, to have known what the couple were arguing about.

The author builds the tension very well. We worry about the stove, the window, about them grabbing the baby, everything. In the end we fear the worst and are left to decided for ourselves what happened.

I do not find very many poetical aspects to the story. It is written in a pretty straight forward manner. The word choice is pretty plain – perhaps to reflect the bareness of the apartment and the couple’s lives. This is not to say it needs to be poetical but, from my perspective, when compared to a story such as John Updike’s A&P I don’t like it as well. I like the mastery of Updike’s word usage as a personal preference.

Many of Raymond Carver’s stories revolve around similar themes – dysfunctional families, children being hurt in the fallout of a marriage. Carver’s father was apparently an alcoholic so perhaps his choice of story line reflects this fact. This story was first published in 1988 in the book Where I’m Calling from: New and Selected Stories.

This is the second version of the story that Carver wrote. He wrote a very similar earlier story called Mine indicating what he thinks this story is about. Its about how parents, during a separation or divorce will hurt their children. The story need not be read as a literal story – it can be read as an allegory of how people treat their children as things during a separation and hurt them.

I think the story is pretty good if a little short.

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