Collectors by Raymond Carver
In 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.