Collectors by Raymond Carver

Collectors - Raymond CarverIn Collectors by Raymond Carver we have the theme of paralysis, identity and privacy. Taken from his Will You Please Be Quiet, Please collection the story is narrated in the first person by a man called (at least the reader believes it to be) Mr Slater. From the beginning of the story, Carver explores the theme of paralysis. The reader finds that Slater is lying on his sofa. This is significant as it would suggest very little movement, something that is mirrored throughout the story. The setting of the story is also important. All the action takes place indoors, in Slater’s home. Again there is a sense of confinement which may further suggest the idea of paralysis or a sense of not going anywhere. It is also interesting that Slater tells the reader that he is waiting on news, so that he can start a job up north. Later the reader realises that Slater doesn’t get any news and is to remain in the same place (stuck at home). Again this suggests the idea or theme of paralysis, of going nowhere.

Carver explores the theme of paralysis to a fuller detail while Aubrey Bell is in the house, vacuuming and shampooing the carpets. There is the instance when Slater sits in the hallway on the chair, he has nowhere else to go. Also when he goes to the kitchen to make coffee, he is also confined to a small space. These confinements are significant as they again suggest a sense of paralysis (not being able to freely move about). In essence there is a lack of movement. Another incident which suggests paralysis in the story is when Bell asks Slater does he have a car. Slater tells him he doesn’t. This is significant as it again suggests that Slater isn’t going anywhere. That he remains stuck. In essence he remains paralyzed.

The idea of identity is also seen several times in the story. First when Aubrey Bell knocks on the door and Slater is talking to him. Slater never tells Bell his name, despite Bell asking on several occasions. It is not only Bell but the reader too is left to assume that the narrator is Mr Slater. We suspect it is, but are never 100% certain. Though minor there is also the fact that when Bell knocks on the door, Slater knows (by the sound of the footsteps) that it is not the mailman. Again, though it’s minor, this incident also plays on the theme of identity. What also makes it interesting for the reader is that by never fully knowing if Slater is really Slater, Carver manages to heighten the suspense in the story.

The sense of privacy or rather the lack of it can be also seen several times in the story. Slater is uncomfortable with Bell’s presence in the house. He doesn’t want Bell in the house. After he hands Bell the aspirin, he tells him that ‘…I think you ought to leave.’ It is clear that Slater doesn’t want Bell in the house, if anything he feels as if his own privacy in some ways is being invaded. Bell’s actions, by going into Slater’s bedroom also suggest an invasion of privacy. A bedroom, to some people, would be a personal sanctuary. What is also interesting about Bell going into the bedroom is that Slater tells Bell, ‘It’s not my mattress.’ As Slater may not be a reliable narrator, it is difficult to believe him when he says the mattress is not his. But if we take him at face value (and believe what he is saying), the fact that the mattress is not his leaves the question, who’s mattress it? Again this plays on the idea or theme of identity. It may also further suggest (again if we believe Slater) that he is not only spending his day on the sofa but he is sleeping on the sofa too. Which would bring in (again) the idea of paralysis. Slater isn’t going anywhere.

The most significant symbol in the story is the letter. Not only does it suggest identity (when Bell tells Slater ‘It’s for a Mr Slater’) but it also suggests a further invasion of privacy. Slater has been stopped on several occasions in the story from retrieving the letter, the reader learning that when he does try and reach the letter he was cut by Bell’s actions, ‘with his hose and his pipes and his sweeping and his sweeping…’ What Slater tells the reader at the end of the story is also significant. He tells Bell (after Bell takes the letter) that ‘I’m going to be leaving here soon.’ This is significant because in all probability Slater won’t be going anywhere (paralysis again). We are aware that he is waiting for news (letter) about a job up north, however it would appear that the news has arrived and Bell has ‘picked up the letter…and put it in his hip pocket.’ This action is important as Carver may be suggesting that Bell has ‘collected’ the letter. From the beginning of the story the reader knows that Slater is afraid of bill collectors coming to the house. In some ways by allowing Bell into the house he has unwittingly allowed a ‘collector’ in.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Collectors by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.

20 comments

  • I feel this interpretation, or review, is rather vague. The author first states that Carver deals with three major themes in the story. Then, he continues to show various instances in the story where these themes are present, but that is as far as he goes. Rather than a list that showcases places in the story where the themes are present, I would like to see an argument that attempts to follow Carver’s development of these themes into the ultimate meaning that lies at the center of the story. What is Carver trying to say by using these themes, other than the fact that Mr. Slater is indeed paralyzed.

    Also, some statements in the review need more support. Sentences like, “Again, though it’s minor, this incident also plays on the theme of identity,” only leave the reader wondering as to how, exactly, does the incident relate to the theme of identity besides the general and obvious way.

    In conclusion, I feel that this review needs to explore the themes of the story, and Carver’s use of them, to a deeper degree. It also needs more support from the text so as to avoid that feeling of vagueness that it has.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Daniel. By suggesting some relevant themes in the story, rather than exploring a central meaning, I am hoping that the reader will formulate their own opinion as to exactly what Carver may be suggesting. Such is Carver’s ability as a writer, he allows for several different interpretations of any given story. It is because of this that I would make suggestions (by themes), that might assist the reader to formulate an opinion as to what the central meaning of the story may be, rather than clearly stating my own interpretation. Which may not necessarily be an interpretation that caters for the individual readers assessment of the story. By suggesting themes, I would also hope that I am in some way guiding the reader in a more specific direction, rather than in a more general one. However I may need to, as you suggest, clarify (or support) my review a little better by providing more text from the story itself.

      • Okay, I see what you were trying to do, and I do think is a good way to help the reader. I guess I just have always been against that kind of thing. When I started taking literature classes in college, I would hate to see the broad, general questions that the editors would put after a piece of work to “guide” the reader, you know? For me, nothing gets my brain working better than reading a solid interpretation from someone else because I start trying to find flaws and strengths in it, and I start trying to come up with my own.
        And the reason why I made such criticizing comments on your post was because I really liked where you were going with the theme of paralysis in this story. I would have loved to see where you would take that, that’s all.

        So I understand If you mean to make this posts more as guides than as interpretations, but you should consider doing some in-depth essays as well because some of your ideas are very interesting.

        Either way, I love your site. It’s very helpful. I hope you keep posting reviews because I do enjoy them, even if I sounded overly-critical in my last comment.

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Glad that you find the blog helpful in some way. I didn’t find your comment overly critical at all. I think it’s a good thing that people express their opinion.

    • I personally find it rather, openly critical

  • Can you explain why the salesman picked up the letter and put it in his pocket? The letter wasn’t for the salesman, right?

    What did you mean he was a collector? What kind of collectors has the right to take other people’s personal letter?

    Thank you:)

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Hi Shuo. You’re right the letter wasn’t for the salesman. It was for Slater, however the salesman ended up taking the letter because Slater (or who the reader thinks is Slater) doesn’t tell the salesman that he actually is Slater. It would be unusual for someone to do this (take a letter that is not for them). Slater is trying to hide his identity (from the reader, from bill collectors and from the salesman) because he doesn’t want people to know who he is (as he owes money for his bills). By hiding his identity Slater hopes that others will not be able to pursue him for these bills. Slater doesn’t trust the salesman (and may think he is a bill collector). Just as the reader is never sure if the narrator of the story is Slater, likewise Slater (or who we assume is Slater) is never sure of the identity of the salesman. A bill collector wouldn’t have a right to take someone’s personal letters, however should Slater admit to who he is (and tell the salesman, who he doesn’t trust, that he is Slater) then he knows that the salesman (or any bill collector) could pursue him for the bills that he owes. I called the salesman a ‘collector’ because not only has he been ‘collecting’ the dirt from the house into the vacuum cleaner but he has also collected (or picked up) the letter that was for Slater.

      • What a great explanation! Thank you very much! I have read all Chinese translations about this story, but no one can answer it. There was a huge culture gap between two languages, and you just filled it! Thanks!

  • Thank you for the infinitely helpful and stimulating analyses.

  • What do you make of the absence of quotations marks? this is very rare, I feel like it adds to the confusion and the non identity of both men, and to the unreliabilty of the narrator.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Manon. I hadn’t noticed the lack of quotation marks in the story. It is possible that Carver is doing as you suggest and adding to the confusion (with identity) in the story by leaving out the quotation marks. Well-spotted.

      • Thank you so much for your quick response. I have an oral exam Tuesday that might fall on Short Cuts and your reviews really helped me highlight some of the themes recurrent in Carver’s works. This semester our teacher cleverly constructed her class on some of Hemingway’s short stories and their cinematographic adaptations and on Short Cuts and the movie, thus drawing the parallels between Hemingway and Carver literary styles. Anyways, thanks again and keep up with your fantastic work!

  • Hello. I love this blog. So, as reading this story, I guess the object used to clean the stuff inside the house could suggest something when the salesman talks about the particles from the body that are left behind. It got me thinking. What do you think?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Lucas. Interesting point. Carver may be suggesting that Slater no matter how hard he tries to hide his identity or past still leaves something behind.

      • That’s what I was thinking too until I remembered that the salesman vacuumed up the particles. I was thinking about what you said about paralysis and going nowhere. Maybe it’s a little more than going nowhere. Maybe it’s also tied to this issue of identity as well. Maybe the vacuuming of the particles suggest that even the tiniest flakes of his existence have been collected. The salesman says that you’d be surprised what collects in a mattress over months and years. But even these tiny particles suggesting life and existence have been vacuumed and collected. He is no one going nowhere.

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