Fever by Raymond Carver
In Fever by Raymond Carver we have the theme of trust, helplessness, letting go and acceptance. Taken from his Cathedral collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and very early in the story the reader realises that Carver is exploring one of the main themes of the story, the theme of trust. It is through the character Debbie that the reader realises that Carlyle has made a mistake, trusting her with his children. It is also by the introduction of Carlyle’s wife, Eileen that the reader also discovers that Carver is further exploring the theme of trust. Eileen has left Carlyle for another man and moved to California. She has left Carlyle for a man called Richard, who Carlyle had considered a friend or at least someone he could trust. It is also interesting that Carver allows Carlyle’s character to feel several different emotions. He not only feels bitter and angry about Eileen having left him but there also appears to be a sense of helplessness over the separation.
Some critics suggest that Carver is using irony when it comes to Carlyle’s job description. He is after all an art teacher and one of his responsibilities would be to show or tell other students of the importance of expressing yourself. However there is a sense that Carlyle has difficulty in expressing himself. This is noticeable when Carol tells Carlyle that he ‘shouldn’t be afraid to say when he needed affection.’ This line is significant as the reader suspects that Carlyle has been more focused on getting a sitter for the kids than on trying to understand how he really feels about his separation. In many ways he has been too busy over the summer, looking after the children, to be focused on himself.
There is also some symbolism in the story which appears to act as a foreshadowing device. After Carlyle has hired Mrs Webster he has a dream which he finds difficult to understand but which still leaves him with a sense of well-being. This is significant because in many ways Mrs Webster acts as an agent of change in the story. It is after Carlyle hires her that he tells Carol that things are beginning to improve. It is also noticeable that Carlyle has neither made contact nor received a call from Eileen in over six weeks. This again may be significant as it could possibly highlight the first time in the story in whereby Carlyle appears to be letting go of the past, or accepting the fact that Eileen is not going to return.
The sense of change that comes over Carlyle after Mrs Webster becomes the children’s babysitter also manifests itself in how Carlyle treats Carol. He appears to show her more affection. Where previously it had been suggested to the reader that Carlyle was ‘not having a love affair,’ with Carol the reader finds that soon Carlyle is asking Carol to stay over in the house with him. Also Carlyle is allowing Carol’s son, Dodge, play with his own children every Saturday under Mrs Webster’s care. What may have started out as a casual encounter appears to have developed into something more important. There is also a sense that Carlyle is now able to love again, something that seemed impossible at the beginning of the story. It is also interesting that Carlyle does not feel the urge to answer Eileen’s phone call when he is with Carol.
Carlyle is not the only character in the story who struggles. Mrs Webster in many ways is also helpless. The reader is told that Mr Webster is out of work and that because of their age, they have to think about the future. When they have the chance of work and board on Mr Webster’s son’s mink farm, Mrs Webster knows that she has to grab the opportunity. It is also interesting that, rather than his world falling apart, as the reader might expect it too, now that he no longer has a babysitter, the news that Mrs Webster is leaving acts as an agent for Carlyle to tell Mrs Webster about his life with Eileen.
Eileen’s suggestion that Carlyle should keep a record of how he feels when he is suffering from fever may also be significant. Despite Carlyle thinking that Eileen is insane in many ways, Carver may be suggesting the importance of a person recording their feelings, to not only understand how they felt at a particular time but also to see their progress (ability to let go and move on). Carver may also be suggesting the importance of dialogue in helping a person let go or move on.
It is after all when Carlyle is telling Mrs Webster about his life with Eileen that the reader senses he is moving on, or letting go of the past (the separation) and is accepting his position in life. Though it will be difficult for Carlyle, particularly as he has to find another babysitter that he can trust, Carver’s mentioning in the final line of the story that ‘he (Carlyle) brought his arm down and turned to his children,’ suggests that Carlyle is no longer focused on the loss of Eileen. It would appear that he is accepting it (the separation) and focusing on his children rather than on a marriage that the reader is aware is over.