Boxes by Raymond Carver

In Boxes by Raymond Carver we have the theme of connection, worry, powerlessness, mortality and apprehension. Taken from his Elephant and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and tells the story of the narrator’s mother moving back to California from Longview, Washington. The setting of the story may also be important particularly the name Longview because Carver may be highlighting to the reader the fact that the narrator is taking a long look at his relationship with his mother. He knows that her moving back to California may mean that the time he spends with her in Longview may be the last time that he sees her and there is in some ways a sense that the narrator is trying to connect with his mother (or understand her) before she moves. If the narrator is trying to connect with his mother there is no disputing the fact that his girlfriend Jill makes very little effort to try and connect with her. This can be seen from the beginning of the story when the narrator asks Jill to go to his mother’s for dinner with him. Though she agrees to go at first she is unwilling. Also while at the dinner despite the narrator’s mother talking Jill isn’t listening to what she is saying and at times the reader finds that neither is the narrator, though for a different reason (worry).

It is while they are having dinner that the narrator starts to worry. He realises that he may not see his mother again. The reader becomes aware of this worry through Jill telling his mother that the narrator finds it difficult to sleep at night and wakes Jill up to tell her that ‘I can’t sleep. I’m thinking about my mother.’ This line may be important as it serves to highlight just how affected the narrator is when it comes to thinking about his mother. There is also the instance when the narrator’s mother is listing the ways she imagines that Larry Hadlock has wronged her. The narrator isn’t listening to her and not only is there a sense of disconnection but there is also an awareness (for the narrator) that he is worried about his mother travelling back to California. Though he knows there is nothing he can do to stop her. If anything he is powerless to stop her. It is also while she is talking about Larry Hadlock that the narrator becomes aware that he may never see his mother alive again (idea of mortality). In some ways the narrator feels powerless again. He knows that no matter what he does or says his mother’s mind is made up. She is moving back to California.

There is also an instance in the story where the narrator associates death with his mother. While he is talking on the phone to his mother the narrator is looking out at a workman climbing a pole. His mother tells him that she wishes ‘I could just die and get it over with.’ This line may be important because as soon the narrator is told this the reader is made aware of the workman on the pole and the narrator’s fears that he wouldn’t be able to do anything if the man fell from the pole to his death. Which mirrors exactly how the narrator feels about his mother dying; he knows he can do nothing about it (powerless again). What is also important about this scene is the fact that the narrator is associating the cold of Longview with his mother’s death. This is not the only time in the story where the narrator associates things or places with his mother’s death.

At the end of the story, as his mother is getting ready to drive back to California, the narrator tells the reader that his mother was dressed all in white. This may be important as it may symbolize heaven. The narrator is associating his mother’s departure with her death, just as he did when he saw the workman climbing the pole. There is a sense of powerlessness again within the narrator and again an awareness that he may never see his mother alive again. Carver ends Boxes with the narrator going back into the house after helping his mother to her car and the sadness that he feels over her leaving him and Longview, slowly fading. It is several days later when his mother contacts him to tell him that she has moved into her apartment in California that the reader again senses the longing (or want) of the narrator to connect again with his mother. He remembers his father affectionately calling his mother ‘dear’ and as he is on the phone he also calls his mother dear before hanging up. After the narrator hangs up the phone and while still looking out the window he notices one of the neighbours has left their porch light on but then they remember to turn it off. This action may be important because Carver could be symbolizing to the reader the darkness the narrator feels (or will feel) knowing that he will possibly never see his mother alive again.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Boxes by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 9 May. 2016. Web.


  • There is definitely an Oedipal element to this story. It tells of a son’s realisation that he must sever or at least slacken his maternal ties rather than the decision be made for both of them by death.
    We hear of Jill’s exasperation at being invited to a farewell meal for the fourth time, signalling an indecision and reluctance on the part of the mother to let go, despite having boxes packed for nearly six months and her son having to live his life at the behest of this.

    Furthermore, the box marked “knick knacks” signifies non specific items of sentimental value which the mother may not have any particular use for but is sure she definitely doesn’t want to part with them. This, I believe, is a metaphor for feelings and memories and the confusion they bring about; the mother’s constant criticism of Larry Hadlock yet we hear how he is performing chores in the garden to make a nicer living environment for her – he is ostensibly, a nice man – and her apparent disdain is a manifestation of her suppressed attraction to him, perhaps out of a sense of loyalty to her late husband. Again, she cannot let go. When the narrator notices the telecoms worker up the pole, secured only by his harness, this could be a metaphor for the umbilical cord and maternal ties.

    The poem “Mother, Any Distance” by Simon Armitage is an excellent supplement to the themes in this story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *