Call If You Need Me by Raymond Carver

In Call If You Need Me by Raymond Carver we have the theme of separation, infidelity, connection, trust, acceptance, letting go and moving on. Taken from his collection of the same name the story is narrated in the first person by a middle aged man called Dan and very early on the reader realises that Dan’s marriage to Nancy is in trouble with both having conducted affairs while still married to each other. It is also interesting that there seems to be an acceptance between Dan and Nancy when it comes to their marriage (the fact it may be over). It is also worth noting that throughout Dan and Nancy’s stay in Eureka there also appears to be a lack of worry or concern, particularly from Dan regards his marriage to Nancy. The reader does not get a sense, particularly through Dan’s actions (or dialogue) that he is overly concerned that his marriage appears to be on the rocks or over. Again there is a sense that Dan will accept things no matter what the outcome of his stay in Eureka. Also while in Eureka there does not appear to be any deep exploration into the marriage. Apart from the fact that both Dan and Nancy have committed adultery, there is no further insight into the marriage. At no stage does either character attempt to resolve any differences that may exist within the marriage.

The theme of separation is also evident in the story, from the beginning to the end. There is the obvious fact that Dan and Nancy decide to go their separate ways at the end of the story but there is also the fact that both Dan and Nancy are separated from their respective lovers. Both agreeing not to contact them for the summer while they try and repair their marriage. Also Richard, for the summer is separated from his parents. Though this may appear to be insignificant later in the story the reader realises the affects this separation has on Nancy. Richard’s my son, my baby, and he’s nearly grown and gone. I miss him.’ Nancy’s separation from her son highlights her longing to connect with him. There are still parts of her marriage to Dan that she doesn’t want to let go of.

Symbolically the car that Dan and Nancy encounter while driving to Eureka may also be important. Its muffler is hitting the ground and causing sparks. These sparks may symbolise the attempt by Dan and Nancy to rekindle or put a spark back into their own marriage. Also the fact that the car pulls off the road and onto the shoulder may also be significant as it suggests that the car will not make it to its intended destination. Again this can symbolise the fact that despite Dan and Nancy’s efforts, they too will not make it on their (marital) journey. In some ways the fact that the car is damaged also mirrors the fact that Dan and Nancy’s marriage is damaged. If anything it is possible that Carver is using the car as foreshadowing. Just as it has broken down, so too has Dan and Nancy’s marriage. The conversation that Dan and Nancy have with the fisherman may also be significant as just as the fisherman has had no success that day catching fish, Dan and Nancy will have no success in repairing their marriage. Again Carver may be using the fisherman as a foreshadowing device.

Probably the most significant symbolism in the story are the four horses that Dan sees grazing outside the house. It is possible that Carver, by using four horses, may also be symbolising the four people that are involved in Dan and Nancy’s marriage (Dan, Nancy, Del and Susan). It is also significant that Nancy is afraid that the horses might bite her. Symbolically this can suggest that Nancy has already been bitten by Dan’s adultery. The fact that Nancy overcomes her fears and pets one of the horses is also important as it suggests her capacity to love again. Though it becomes clear to the reader that it will not be Dan that Nancy loves again. By overcoming her fears of being bitten and petting the horse it is also possible that Nancy is learning to trust again.

The imagery of the fog may also be significant as it appears just after Nancy has told Dan that things will not work out. It is possible that Dan, now that he knows the marriage is over, is unclear of what to do. Symbolically the fog might suggest that Dan’s vision is not as clear as it once was. He does not know which direction to take. The fact that Dan and Nancy make love after seeing the horses may also be significant as it suggests that despite what has happened (Dan’s adultery) there remains a connection between both Dan and Nancy. Carver may also be suggesting that sex is part of the healing process. The imagery of the hoof prints in the grass and the piles of dung that Dan notices from the horses, after he has returned from the airport may also be important as they can suggest the mark that Dan’s actions have left on his marriage to Nancy.

The ending of the story is also interesting as it appears to be ambiguous. Dan, after Nancy has left to visit Richard, returns to the house and immediately calls Susan. Symbolically the phone call can suggest a connection between Dan and Susan or his quick acceptance to the fact that his marriage is over. However some critics suggest the fact that Dan has not removed his coat may symbolically highlight that Dan is constricted or feels confined. That Dan may not necessarily be able to love again. Just as the fog may symbolise that Dan is unclear of things, likewise some critics suggest that by not removing his coat, Dan is incapable of moving on or accepting his marriage is over. Though it is difficult to say for certain as each reader will interpret Dan keeping his coat on differently.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Call If You Need Me by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 29 Mar. 2016. Web.


  • Why the title? You did not discuss it, I’m curious to know…

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Stefano. I’m not really sure about the title. The best that I can figure out is Susan may have told Dan to ring or call her when he felt like he might need her.

  • What about the coffe and the fire? They appear repeated times throughout the story.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m not really sure it’s been so long since I read the story. However coffee reminds me of comfort while fire leaves me with the impression of danger.

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