A Small, Good Thing by Raymond Carver
In A Small, Good Thing by Raymond Carver we have the theme of connection, helplessness, loss, conflict, communication, isolation and loneliness. Taken from his Cathedral collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and in the opening passages of the story the reader realises that Carver is delving into the theme of connection. Ann, while she is ordering Scotty’s birthday cake, is trying to figure out if the baker has children. This is significant as she appears to be trying to make a connection between herself and the baker. That he too must have been excited at times about a child’s birthday. This attempt at a connection would also appear to act as foreshadowing to later in the story when Ann, Howard and the baker are sitting down talking in the bakery after Scotty’s death.
The theme or idea of isolation also appears to be evident in the story. The reader learns that the baker spends sixteen hours a day working, it would appear that this is all he does. The reader is also aware that the baker has no children and there is no mention of a wife or any other family. In many ways it would appear that the baker is detached or isolated from others. He also appears to be the only one working in the bakery, Carver never mentions any co-workers or assistants who might work with him. There is also a sense that both Ann and Howard feel helpless over Scotty’s accident. For the main they remain powerless in the hospital, relying on information from Dr Francis. There would appear to be very little that they can do, apart from wait for Scotty to wake up. Similarly, Franklin’s parents are also helpless or powerless. Just as Ann and Howard are waiting for news on Scotty, Franklin’s parents likewise are waiting for news on his condition.
Carver also explores the idea of communication or rather the lack of it. There is the fact that the baker hangs up several times on Scotty’s parents. Also Dr Francis is unable to give Ann or Howard an update on Scotty or tell them when he might wake up. All he appears to be sure of, though he does later change his mind, is that it is not a coma. Similarly Franklin’s parents, when they first see Ann, think that she is a nurse and hope that she can tell them about Franklin but instead Ann tells them about Scotty. Also when Ann is calling people to let them know about Scotty’s death, she breaks down crying, unable to explain to people what has happened. There is also a striking silence in the elevator when Ann and Howard are on their way to the X-ray department, apart from a brief comment by one of the orderlies, nothing else is said.
There is also evidence in the story of both external and internal conflict. There is the fact that the baker rings Scotty’s parents several times and hangs up, this would suggest an external conflict. The baker is angry because he is yet to get paid for the cake. Also before talking to the baker in the bakery, Ann wants to kill him such is her anger towards him. While the internal conflict is noticeable through both Scotty and Franklin’s parents, both seeking information on their sons’ condition. Howard also, while sitting in his car after leaving the hospital finds it difficult to understand or accept Scotty’s accident. Prior to the accident the reader learns that Howard’s life ran smoothly, any difficulty that arose, he overcame.
It is through other people’s difficulties that the reader also senses that in some ways people are making a connection. Ann in some ways feels connected to Franklin and his parents. This is noticeable when she returns from her home and asks a nurse about Franklin’s progress. There also appears to be a connection between Dr Francis and Ann after Scotty’s death. Dr Francis can’t understand what has happened and for the first time, he embraces Ann when he is talking to her in the doctor’s lounge. Previously the only physical interaction he had with Scotty’s parents was when he would arrive in Scotty’s room and shake Howard’s hand.
There is also a symbolic connection between the baker, Ann and Howard at the end of the story. After Scotty dies, Ann tells Howard that ‘he’s (Scotty) gone now and we’ll have to get used to that. To being alone.’ Likewise the baker tells Ann and Howard that he is lonely. The baker, who Ann (and possibly the reader) may have thought was a cold man, particularly from his description at the beginning of the story, opens up to Ann and Howard. In many ways he is allowing himself to feel as vulnerable as Ann and Howard. This is significant as it is through his actions, of opening up to Scotty’s parents that the reader realises the baker is also making a connection with Ann and Howard. Though there is no doubt that Scotty’s (and Franklin’s) death is a tragedy Carver may be suggesting in the story, that through tragedy people can still connect with each other and in many ways help each other to accept and understand what has happened.