A Small, Good Thing – Raymond Carver

A Small, Good Thing - Raymond CarverIn the short story A Small, Good Thing by Raymond Carver we have the theme of communication, helplessness and disconnection. Taken from Cathedral, the story begins with one of the main protagonists, Ann Weiss, in a bakery ordering a cake for her son Scotty’s eighth birthday. It is through Ann’s eyes that the reader gets the first instance of the lack of communication in the story. There are no pleasantries between Ann and the baker, just the required details, the name to put on the cake, her own name and her phone number. Ann is also trying to make some connection with the baker and imagines that a man of his age must have gone through the special time of cakes and birthday parties with his own children. It is only later in the story that the reader will find that the baker has lived a very isolated life and has no children of his own.

When Monday (Scotty’s birthday) arrives the reader is introduced to Scotty, who is on his way to school with his friend. It is while he is standing on the pavement about to cross the road that he is hit by a car and knocked down. There is another instance of the lack of communication or lack of things being said when Scotty’s friend asks him what it is like to be hit by a car, Scotty doesn’t answer, instead he goes home and tells his mother that he’s been hit by a car. As he is telling his mother about the accident, Scotty closes his eyes and his body goes limp. In panic Ann rings her husband Howard, who in turn rings an ambulance and Scotty is rushed to hospital.

Over the next two days as Ann and Howard are in the hospital sitting by Scotty’s bedside there are several examples of being disconnected or isolated. The first instance is when Howard is driving home. He realises that he has lived a much protected life with very little trouble (isolated or on the outside). Also there is the phone call from the baker asking when the cake will be picked up. Howard doesn’t know anything about it and ends up hanging up the phone on the baker (lack of communication, disconnect). When Howard returns to the hospital only to find that Scotty needs more x-rays there is the incident in the elevator when he and Ann are following Scotty to the Radiology department and neither of them understand what the porters are saying, again the idea of being on the outside or feeling isolated.

Likewise when Ann makes her way home there is the feeling of isolation but wanting to connect. There is the incident when she is looking for the elevator and she comes across a family who are waiting to see if there has been any progress with their teenage son, Franklin. Though Ann doesn’t know them, she feels compelled to tell them about Scotty and through her own experience is trying to connect with Franklin’s family. Later when she returns from the hospital, again there is the idea of connection when she asks the nurse how Franklin is doing, only to discover that he has died. Also when Ann is at home there is another phone call. She doesn’t who it is and the person at the other end of the line hangs up. There is the idea of helplessness. Ann thinks maybe it could be the hospital calling to tell her that there has been a change in Scotty’s condition.

When Scotty does die there is an attempt at some form of connection between his parents and Doctor Francis. He first tells them he doesn’t know what to say (again lack of communication) and then for the first time as he is talking to Ann he embraces her (connection). This idea of connection continues when Ann and Howard are leaving the hospital, Ann feels that she should stay with Scotty’s body and as they are driving away from the hospital she keeps looking back.

When they do get home from the hospital, Howard starts to cry when he is sitting on the sofa with Ann. She tries to console him and tells him that they are alone now (idea of isolation). Later after she has made the phone calls to tell her relatives that Scotty is dead, Howard is out in the yard looking at Scotty’s bicycle. This scene is important because it is through it that we again get the sense of connection as Howard pulls the bicycle close to his chest. Another important incident is the phone call that Ann answers. Again she doesn’t know who it is and when they ask about Scotty she swears at the person and hangs up the phone. It is only later that night that Ann realises that all the phone calls have been from the baker.

Angered by the phone calls, Ann and Howard make their way to the bakery to confront the baker, who at first refuses to let them in. When they do get into the bakery Ann tells the baker that Scotty has died and gives out to him for making the phone calls. After clearing some space at a table so that they can all sit down, the baker apologies to Ann and Howard for calling them. What Carver does next is interesting because again it highlights the idea of connection. The baker tells Ann and Howard that he has no children and can only imagine (attempt at connection) how they must feel.

Carver ends A Small, Good Thing with the baker offering Ann and Howard some coffee and bread. It is while all three are sitting down eating the bread that the baker tells Ann and Howard a little more about himself, his loneliness (again idea of isolation and inability to connect) and how he feels relieved that he is a baker, feeding people. It is through this final dialogue that the reader gets a sense of connection occurring between the baker and Scotty’s parents. A connection that makes all three remain sitting down and talking as the morning arrives.

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