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.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "A Small, Good Thing by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.


  • This is one of my favorite Carver stories. I do like your summary of the story as well. I’ve always felt that there was an underlying ‘breaking of bread’ element to this tale, a consensual but undiscussed agreement for both parties to forgive. In the end, tortured souls are given peace. We will never know because Carver left us far too early. I just pulled out my old copy of ‘Where I’m calling from’ and plan on reading some stories this weekend. I’ve been away from Carver for too long. As a writer, I can’t let that happen.

    Take care.


    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Michael. I’m glad you liked the post. I would agree with you, there does seem to be a sense of forgiveness at the end of the story when Scotty’s parents are at the bakery and sharing the bread with the baker. Despite all that has happened them, Carver (I think by introducing the bread into the story) is allowing Scotty’s parents and the baker the opportunity to connect with one another and it is through this connection that (I think) both parties begin to understand each others grief and as you suggest also find some peace.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Michael. I’m glad you liked the post. I would agree with you, there does seem to be a sense of forgiveness at the end of the story when Scotty’s parents are at the bakery and sharing the bread with the baker. Despite all that has happened them, Carver (I think by introducing the bread into the story) is allowing Scotty’s parents and the baker the opportunity to connect with one another and it is through this connection that (I think) both parties begin to understand each others grief and as you suggest also find some peace.

  • This critique let me understand better Carver’s story, as I hadn’t been completely aware of the lack of communication between the characters. I must admit that, at one time, I had considered the baker himself to be the driver responsible of the accident, but it turned out he was the one who lent the parents a helping hand to get through the tragedy.

  • I have read some Carver stories, but this is my favorite by far, I really liked it. I enjoyed reading your summary and I agree with you that there are many connections throughout the story. As readers we had the opportunity to feel many emotions such as impotence, desperation, sadness, etc. And I think the characters shared these feelings in some way and felt a connection as you said and they wanted to be understood or maybe just know that they aren’t the only ones feeling those emotions. I want to read some more Carver stories indeed.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Diego. There definitely is a lot of emotion in the story. Which Carver uses very well to connect each character.

  • I agree that at the end Carver is trying to get us to understand that people that have been through the same types of experiences can grow together. They can learn from each other and help each other. I first thought that the baker had lost a child and that is why he was being so cold and distant. I believe that is why he was so empathetic when hearing that they had lost a child. Great summary.


    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Alejandro. It would make for an interesting analysis if the baker did have a child and lost them. It would further connect him to Scotty’s parents.

  • Great post Dermot!

    I have to say that there is definitely a strong connection between the baker and Scotty’s parents. However, Carver left me thinking about the kid because we never really get to know the kid, yet as a reader I felt extremely sad for him because he had the worst birthday.

  • Great story, it really demonstrates a clear “Carver Moment” with the parents of Scotty. I would’ve also liked to know the kid better from the beginning, otherwise a nice read.

  • This critique helped me understand Carver’s story better, I hadn’t seen some of the elements you described here. I agree with your idea at the end. That even though there has been a tragedy if you have someone to lean on during the hard times it will in some way make it easier.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Fernanda. Connecting with others really does help ease an individual’s pain as can be seen through Scotty’s parents connecting with the baker.

  • When I first read this Carver’s story I didn’t notice that it was through suffering that the characters began to have connections with each other, I think is really is interesting tough, because we really never open ourselves to someone unless we have something in common, and I didn’t catch which was the thing in common they had until I read this critique.

  • I completely agree with the fact that sometimes stressful or difficult situations make people bond do to the fact that they empathize with each other feelings. I had not realized that it was the case of the story but this review helped me realize this very interesting fact that affects the way the characters interact.

  • Out of the small number of Raymond Carver stories I’ve read so far, I feel like this one might be my favorite. In this one, I truly felt throughout the whole story this sense of desperation which is key to many of this author’s tales. I like this idea of connecting with others which you make reference to in your review. When getting along with someone, most of the time it is because there’s something that connects the two of you. When meeting someone new, one is most of the time looking for those type of connections in order to relate with that other individual. And it’s true, at times the best way of understanding the situation you’re in and how to overcome it is to be with someone who relates to that so both of you can help each other through it, even if the only thing you do is listening to each other’s issues. Silly enough, now that I’ve dragged the idea of connections a bit too far, I feel that this is the Raymond Carver story that I’ve felt most involved in with the characters and how they’re feeling, to the point that I was very sad when the parents were given the bad news.

    Anyways, great review! See ya!

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Mauricio. The theme of connection does really shine through in the story. Right through from the beginning to the end of the story the reader can sense that each character is trying to connect with the other. Even if at times they remain unaware of it.

  • I really liked “A small, good thing”, it was a great story, and even though I think it is a pretty common thing, a “hit and run”, I like how Carver used it to show compassion and how people connect in desperate times. I agree with everything you said in the review, it really helped me to identify some themes I had not recognized at first when I read the story, like communication. I found it very interesting. Thanks!

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Diana. It’s great knowing that you found some benefit in the post. Carver really does show how people have the ability to connect in difficult times. I think that’s one of the things that makes the story so good.

  • This is an excellent analysis on one of Carver’s best stories. When I read it, I was not aware on the importance of communication or the lack of it, as you say. Most of the story’s tension comes from the lack of communication from the Dr. and Scotty’s parents and the climax is finally solved when both parents finally understand and listen to the baker’s story, finally getting somewhat of closure.

  • I enjoyed the review a lot Dermont, and you gave a better insight of the story than what I could’ve done by myself. I’ve read a few of Carver’s stories and this one ain’t different, but I say it in a good way. I enjoyed the desesperation that makes the reader feel involved with the characters in the story. Again, very good review Dermot! Keep up the good work

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Andres. I would agree with you that the reader is able to get involved in the story through each characters desperation. Something which brings the reader closer to the characters.

  • Amazing analysis!

    You really opened my eyes in many ways Dermot. I was not aware of the different internal and external conflicts among the characters. I believe this story is a great reminder that help and consolation can come from those who you least expect.

    Great way to put it; keep up the good work!

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks Miguel. I would tend to agree with you that at times help can come from the most unexpected sources. As is noticeable in the relationship between Scotty’s parents and the baker.

  • When I first read this Carver’s story I didn’t notice that it was trough suffer that the characters began to have connections with each other, I think is really is interesting though, because we really never open ourselves to someone unless we have something in common, and I didn’t catch which was the thing in common they had until I read this critique.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Jesus. I would agree with you people do not open themselves up to another person unless they feel some connection with that person. Something that is clearly noticeable in the story.

  • I honestly feel that this Carver’s story represents the way most of us feel while passing through a difficult patch in our lives. Personally , I don’t like to connect with people when I’m having a difficult time or any thing for that matter, can’t help but think that that will only make it worse. I think sometimes it’s just better to overcome those things on your own and grow into a better and more independent self.

    But I do admit that we as human beings are dependent on others, and we have this immediate reaction to connect with others you can relate your story with, so we don’t feel alone. Most of the times it just happens naturally and you can’t help but go on with it.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Mar. You have excellent insight into the emotions of pain and how sometimes we as individuals need to ‘repair’ on our own while at other times our natural instinct as you suggest is to connect with others.

  • Really good analysis!

    I really like all the clues and evidence you show us to prove your point, that the bond and connection between Scotty’s fathers and the baker is very clear description of a Raymond Carver Moment, i also liked that in the beggining, you suggest that there is a little bit of foreshadowing, i’ve never thought of that, and i find it very interesting. Great job!

  • When I first read Carvers history i felt sort of empty, I felt the sorrow of Scotty’s parents. This is way agree with your idea about people getting connected in moments of grief. This shows that humans are able to help each other even in the most desperate moments.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment David. I would agree with you people are abkle to help one another in moments of desperation. Easing each others struggles.

  • This is a bitter-sweet story that can easily be perceived as sweet when compared to many of Carver’s other stories. I believe this to be a story about the good that can come out of tragedy. It seems to me that Ann and Howard grew closer together through their shared desperation. The night at the bakery resulted in the baker learning compassion and Scotty’s parents learning forgiveness. The way most of Carver’s stories end taste like his beloved whiskey. The way this story ends is as warm and sweet as the rolls that the baker so happily saw Ann devour.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Eugenio. It is a bitter-sweet story with Carver drawing on a host of emotions many of which we as readers are able to identify with. I think it’s important that Scotty’s parents learn to forgive the baker as it is through forgiving him that they are able to heal.

  • I have recently read many of Raymond Carver stories, but this one on particular got to me; I am really fond of children, and reading a story where a little boy dies kinda captured my attention. Since the beginning, because of some medical culture I have, I knew that the kid would have that outcome, but as I was into the story, I could relate and understand the anguish and desperation felt by the parents both Franklin’s and Scotty’s.

    I never gave it too much thought, but tough situations really bring people together and also allows people to connect to each other. It seems that hard times have their good sides too.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Fabiola. There can be a lot of identification in the story for everybody if they take the time to try and understand others a little bit more.

  • I really like this story, and your analysis is excellent, I’ll be looking forward to more Carver stories!

  • I really enjoyed reading this. I realized that there were many things I didn’t notice in the story, such as the connections between the characters, or the internal and external conflicts (I was more focused on the moments of desperation in the story). Your analysis definitely shows an interesting perspective of “A Small, Good Thing”, thank you for sharing this.

  • I found the characters in this story very interesting. I specially liked the baker and how Carver made me do a complete 180 on my feelings for him. At first he seemed just like a pushy guy calling and annoying the parents to the point of them, and me hating him. But towards the end when he opens up and helps the parents in a time of need. We realise how he is just another struggling human being just trying to cope with his situation, just like the parents, and just like everyone else.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Alfonso. Carver does expertly manipulate the readers feelings for the baker or as you suggest as readers we do a 180 on how we feel about him.

  • Great critique, I agree that people become more empathetic when they believe they’ve been through similar situations. This gives people the feeling that they are understood by the other and that they can somehow feel the way they are feeling.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Andrea. I feel as though everybody has the ability to connect to one another if we take time to understand the person a little bit more.

  • This critique help me to understand better Carver’s story, because it tells me about the lack of communication that is between the characters. For one moment, I thought that probably the one who hit the boy was the baker or even one member of Franklin’s family but now I see that didn’t happen.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Carlos. It’s great knowing that the analysis helped you to understand the story a little bit better.

  • I really enjoyed this Raymond Carver story! It was very different from the others I have read. Your critique really helped me understand the emotions that Carver could have tried to portray. I completely agree with you when you mention the connections between grief and how powerful it can be. Especially in situations of desperation.

  • I believe that Raymond Carver, in “A Small Good Thing”, captures a perfect blend of emotions that culminate in forgiveness and engulf the reader in a peculiar mind state. In my case I felt the grief and sorrow that Scotty’s parents felt, but also the peace of mind that forgiveness brings, and I came to terms with the fact that grudges only drive further the pain.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Martin. I tend to agree with you. Grudges or resentments towards others does only lead to an individual suffering that little bit more.

  • I really enjoyed your analysis of the story. I found this Carver story very powerful and even though it’s a tragic story and the ending is not exactly a ‘happy ending’ I really enjoyed how things turned out. I thought is was a perfect representation of forgiveness, loneliness and helplessness, as you mentioned. I really liked the part where you analyzed the end of the story and the connection between the baker, Ann and Howard.

  • Loved the analysis. I feel bad for the baker.

  • This is a great analysis, I thought that it was interesting the way that Howard and Ann reacted to Scotty’s accident. Howard was doing the best he could keeping calm and trying to reassure his wife, on the other hand Ann was desperate for answers from Dr. Francis. I didn’t expect Scotty to die in the end but at least both Howard and Ann seem like they will be able to get through this tough situation because at the end they could forgive the baker and I think that it is part of their recovery process.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Alejandro. I would agree with you that forgiveness is an important part of the recovery process.

  • I really enjoyed this story and how Carver can truly bring out the desperation in a situation.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Erij. Carver does manage to highlight the desperation of the situation.

  • Great read, great analysis. You feel many emotions reading this and it has this bitter-sweet feeling once you are done. Carver is a great author, showing people how you can become a better you in an interesting way. Scotty’s parents probably felt like the world fell on their shoulders after their son’s death, but it is darkest before dawn.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Seung. I would agree with you it is darkest before dawn. Scotty’s parents have been through a lot but by being able to connect with the baker the reader feels as though things might get that little bit better for them.

  • I’ve read a few of Raymond Carver’s stories, and so far this one has definitely been one of my favorites. Your analysis is outstanding as you clearly understand everything that goes on and the underlying meaning of things. I especially liked the way you talked about the internal and external conflict the characters in the story had. I think this conflicts are what really make it one of Carver’s stories, one of his classic “desperation and connection” moments that really identify him. I also found very interesting the symbolism he uses! All the way from the cake, to even secondary characters that help to foreshadow what’s about to come (for example the death of the other kid before Scotty helps Ann see what her future could be and accept it). It’s all part of moving on through that grief, making connections to pass through hardships.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Mauricio. Carver does write an interesting story. There’s no doubt about that. In this particular story I liked the way that he brought the reader through some of the emotions that an individual can feel when knocked by grief. The desperation, sorrow and anger that Scotty’s parents feel to the connection they make with the baker. All of which lends the story a very human touch.

  • I believe it is really interesting how suffering can bring people together. This analysis made me understand this story in a whole new level. Excellent analysis.

  • I like how you point out that in the end they are all connected by loneliness.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Luis. There definitely is a sense of loneliness in the story particularly when it comes to the baker.

  • This is a pretty good way to see character relations in the story. I did notice certain characters being somewhat disconnected one from each other and then brought together after Scotty’s death. I could even associate it with the mother’s wish to relate with the black family in the middle of the story. “Connection through loneliness” seems ironic at first, but when you think of it, it makes sense to start looking for people that can support you. Thanks for your amazing input.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Jose. Carver really does manage to connect not only the characters in the story but the reader also feels able to connect with them too.

  • There are a lot of emotions inside the story and the analysis does a very good job explaining them. Excellent article.

  • I like how people can always relate to different “raymond carvers moments”, at first, I was not sure I could relate, but thinking it through, there is a lot I can relate to with this type of moments.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Javier. Carver does manage to draw the reader into the story. The result of which is that just as the characters eventually connect with one another so too does the reader connect with the characters.

  • Reading this analysis helped me to understand better the desperation and loneliness that Carver introduced to his stories. This has been my favorite Carver story so far because it makes you feel like you are right there with Scotty´s parents. As he creates a connection between the characters, he is also, making a connection with the reader.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Regina. I would agree with you. Carver does manage to draw the reader into the story, connecting them to each character.

  • I think it’s really interesting to see how Carver is able to relate characters that are marked by the same events or even those who have nothing to do to each other, but makes the story very real in the sense of representing the randomness of events in real life.

  • In my opinion Carver excellently describes how people react to moments of crisis such as Scotty’s condition and eventual death. Some of the actions both parents do when they feel nervous and helpless seem trivial and non-important, but I think they help bring their emotions and thoughts to life; these make them feel human, and because of that, a stronger connection is made between the reader and the characters and context of the story.

    Great analysis!

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Eli. Carver does have a way of being able to tap into human emotion which also allows the reader into the story and as you suggest makes each character very human.

  • Thank you for writing this post. I had not thought about how a central theme to the story could be connection, but it’s absolutely true. The mother is trying to connect with the baker when she is ordering the cake for her son. Then the father tries to connect with the mother when they are both at the hospital waiting for their son to wake up. The doctor tries to connect with them when he is forced to give them the bad news they were hoping not to hear. Finally the parents connect with the baker after hearing his side of the story and realizing he is as lonely as they are now.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Maria. The sense of connection between all the characters really does run through the story.

  • I really liked this critique, I had not noticed the vulnerability the baker showed when opening up to the parents. This analysis helped me understand more the story and the Carver moments.

  • I find Carver’s ability to create situations like this remarkable. One feels like these characters could not only easily exist in real life, but one know one of these people. The way he portrays Scotty’s family suffering, and how the baker handles it once he finds out, is charming in its own way. Thank you for the analysis, it was a great help to my understanding of the story.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks foe the comment Rogelio. There definitely is a sense of compassion at the end of the story when the baker breaks the bread with Scotty’s parents.

  • The connections between the characters are very interesting, they connect because they sympathize of their difficulties and wish the best for each other even though they are strangers, it would be great if most people had this kind of connection, thanks for the great review.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment David. I agree. Life would be fair nicer if more people connected with each other.

  • I really liked the story and this is a great analysis. It helped me understand a lot better.

  • I enjoyed plenty your analysis. I liked very much what you wrote at the end, that through death people can still connect to one another. That just gives me hope and makes the ending of the story much more optimistic than other Carver’s stories. Just amazing.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Jesus. The ending of the story is optimistic which is something that is unusual for a Carver story.

  • It’s a great analysis, and to be honest, it really helped me to fully understand the story. I mean, when I read it, I loved it… however I thought it was a little too depressing and pessimistic for me, even with the kind of “happy” ending it has. Probably because I didn’t think about the little light that always exists even in the worst situation. Amazing story.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Gerardo. It is an amazing story. How Carver turns sadness into something that has some positivity.

  • Carver really knows how to write about people feeling some kind of hope even during the most tragic of times. The story is really sad, but even in dark times Scotty’s parents where able to make an emotional connection with a complete stranger.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Deibd. At times the story is sad but as you suggest Scotty’s parents were abkle to make a connection with the baker. Alleviating their pain a little.

  • The story is kinda sad but still beatiful at the end

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Diego. I agree their is a lot of sadness in the story. Though there is some light at the end which makes it as you suggest beautiful.

  • This is a great story! Its amazing and impressive that the story covers so many things. I had not realized most of therm until I read this review. Congratulations for this great analysis.

  • Great Analysis! I agree with you in the fact that death might connect people in many ways.. Your analysis helped me to understand better the story.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Marcelo. It’s really nice to know that you got something from the post.

  • The first time I read the story I looked at the baker as really distant and uncaring, and at some point responsible for Scotty’s death. I discarded this later on the story, and started to feel sorry about the baker and Scotty’s parents and actually found comforting the connection they started to have, since it was now loneliness the thing they now shared, but knew they weren’t alone in this. Either way, thank you for publishing this analysis, since it let me notice new connections I didn’t the first time I read “A Small, Good Thing.”

  • I think the main theme is parenthood, and the helplessness of parents in the face of harm or loss of their child. The emphasize on parenthood comes in other places: 1. When Howard thinks of his life so far, and then it stops in fatherhood, which Carver chooses to put in a separate sentence from the other stages of his life. 2. The doctor functions as a parent to Howard and mostly for Ann. 3. In one of his calls the baker asks Ann if she ‘forgot about Scotty’ which reflects her blaming herself for being able to protect her son. 5. Ann imagines herself telling the black girl “don’t have children”. 6. The baker starts his apology by saying that he is ‘childless’.

    Call me crazy, but I thought God is also a theme here, and that there was something divine about the character of the baker. The story opens with the description of the cake Ann chose- the one with a spaceship that goes to the stars. It reflects the parent’s wish that his child will get far in his life, and maybe outlive his parents. Then, later, when Scotty is in the hospital, Ann and Howard think of the baker (not knowing it’s him) as kind of a sadist. They are helpless because of their child being in danger and they ask ‘why us?’ or ‘why is he doing this to us?’. These are existential questions one would turn to God with. They are mad at God (and the baker) for doing this to them. unlike, for example, the biblical Job that got his sufferings with silence. But the baker, he only makes the cakes (repeatedly saying “I’m just a baker”, and from then on you’re the one responsible for them, like with children. Check out this description of the baker: “a big man with an apron moving in and out of the white, even light”. Isn’t there some divinity in this? Afterwards they also eat the bread he made.

    Eventually, they connect to the (childless) baker in the end because they realize they should have been thankful for what they had so far (like Job), and that it is better than having no children at all. That way, they maybe make peace with god.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Yonatan. I like the idea of the doctor functioning as a parent. I hadn’t thought of it like that. Nor did I see the pause at fatherhood for Howard. There is definitely some merit in your suggestion that parenthood should be considered as a theme. Similarly attaching God to the story. Again I didn’t see that or the symbolism you point out.

  • I am reading Carver’s stories in their original language in these days (I am Italian and I read some of them translated in the past. So excuse my English…) and I am really stunned by the deepness of these apparently simple stories. This one is absolutely my favourite, so far, and I found your analysis very useful to clearly understand details that I only felt, and did not focused yet.

    The most beautiful thing in this particular story for me is how deep I could empathize the character feelings. I really felt sad reading about Scotty’s death, and then I felt the little sense of relief the parent experienced that night in the bakery. Well, maybe relief is too much, having just lost a son, but you know that little sense of joy that you feel when you stop crying? Well, only Carver could describe it. No, not describe: make me feel it. Actually I think that the connection among people is one of the only things that can make us feel some warmth facing the tragedies.

    It is not the first analysis I read from you, but I get the chance to thank you one for all.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Luca. This story in particular is very good. I would also agree with you that the reader feels the story rather than just reading it.

  • The entirety of the story is religious, second only to Cathedral. The theme is pervasive and, apparently, not considered here.

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