Feathers by Raymond Carver

Feathers - Raymond CarverIn Feathers by Raymond Carver we have the theme of connection, desire, silence, communication, isolation, gratitude and change. Taken from his Cathedral collection the story is narrated in the first person by a man called Jack and after first reading the story the reader becomes aware of the differences between Olla and Fran, even though both appear to have desires or wishes. When Olla was younger, she longed for a peacock and Fran according to Jack would have liked to have had a new car or spent some time in Canada. These wishes, though they may appear to be insignificant are important as the reader finds it is only Olla who fulfils her wishes (or desires). It is also interesting that Olla appears to be happier than Fran. There is a sense that Olla is grateful for what she has. She does after all thank Bud for helping to get her teeth straightened. It is also interesting that Jack tells the reader that neither he nor Fran have ever seen Olla since the time they called over for dinner. This is interesting because it suggests a lack of connection between Jack, Fran and Olla. Despite having had an opportunity to broaden their horizon and remain friends with Bud and Olla, Jack only speaks to Bud when he is in work and even then he is careful in what he says, which would play on the theme of communication.

There are further instances in the story which suggest silence or a lack of communication. When Olla is talking to Fran in the living room about the plaster of Paris cast of her teeth, Fran expects Olla to continue talking but the conversation ends. Also when Olla is telling both Jack and Fran about how she used to put her hand up to her mouth when she smiled, Jack doesn’t know what to say. Instead he tells Olla about the time he rang the house and hung up on her (idea of silence or lack of communication). Also while everybody is looking at TV, Bud says that some of the drivers have been hurt but the commentator hasn’t yet said how badly. Again there is a feeling or an anticipation that something should or would be said. Also Bud tells Jack and Fran that he knows Harold isn’t Clark Gable. This comes after an unexpected silence by Jack and Fran when they first see Harold.

Jack’s description of Harold is also interesting not only does he consider him to be fat and ugly but he also describes Harold as an ‘it’ rather than as a ‘he.’ Earlier in the story the reader becomes aware that Jack doesn’t want to have any children (neither did Fran) and how strongly he feels about children can possibly be seen by his refusal to call Harold a ‘he’. Also later in the story when the reader realises that Jack has a child of his own, Jack does not speak with pride about his son, rather he tells the reader that his son is ‘conniving.’

There is also a noticeable sense of isolation in the story. The reader is aware that neither Jack nor Fran spend much time with other people. It also appears to be a hindrance to Fran to have to actually go and visit Bud and Olla’s house and she shows no real interest in mixing or socializing with them. As far as the reader can make out, Jack and Fran appear to be happy spending their time on their own, with just each other for company. Also at the end of the story Jack begins to be careful of what he says about his family to Bud. This retreat or withdrawal of information suggests not only a continued isolation but also a more obvious silence or lack of communication.

There is also some symbolism in the story. The feathers that Olla hands Fran at the end of the evening, symbolically peacock’s feathers suggest fertility. There may also be other bird symbolism in the story. Fran is drinking Old Crow whiskey and Jack is using an ash tray shaped as a swan. Some critics suggest that Carver, through this symbolism is suggesting that Jack and Fran’s marriage lacks the exotic nature of Bud and Olla’s marriage, that there is something missing. This may be true as near the end of the story the reader realizes that Jack and Fran appear to be emotionally separated from each other, each isolated in their own world.

Whatever the reason for the distance or change between Jack and Fran, it is clear that Fran links her and Jack’s visit to Bud and Olla’s as a reference point. It may be significant that Fran appears to have changed her mind or her opinion on children after holding Harold on her knee. Harold may have been the impetus for change within Fran (regards children). As for Jack it appears that his life changed too, though not as how he would have liked it to. Unlike Olla, who had desires and achieved them, Jack’s own desires have never been met. He now finds himself married to a woman, he no longer considers beautiful and has a son, he cannot trust. In many ways, despite having a family, Jack remains isolated.

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

4 comments

  • Thank you for this. Ever since I’ve discovered your website and your endless analysis of Raymond Carver’s works (whom by the way I enjoyed the most reading short stories. He is simply a master at it), I’ve learned a lot of his writings.

  • Hey!
    There is some more important symbolism in the story. When jack sees the peacock in the entrance to the house, he thinks of either something dying or dangerous. That tells us from the start that something bad is going to happen, and that this is what the peacock symbolizes in the story. Then later, when Olla is going to finally bring the baby, the peacock wails again, and Jack feels the hairs on the back of his neck (danger/dying). Then when the baby comes, they also let the peacock in. Carver ties the coming of the baby to danger for Jack and Fran, which tells us something about the future coming of their own baby. Additionally, a peacock is a very flashy bird, and it is also a symbol. It makes Fran jelous of Olla and is changes her opinion of having a baby. But like you said, Fran’s dream is not a peacock (baby) that ties a person to one place, and is also flashy and noisy. Fran wants a car which symbolizes movement and wandering, and the quiet and not so flashy Canada. She’s not ready to settle down, and maybe will never be.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment and insight Yonatan. You make a clear and persuasive argument with regards to the symbolism associated with the peacock. Much better than my own inept attempt at fully understanding what the peacock represents throughout the story. Thanks again for the comment.

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