Gazebo by Raymond Carver

Gazebo - Raymond CarverIn Gazebo by Raymond Carver we have the theme of trust, dignity, responsibility, infidelity, memories and separation. Taken from his What We Talk About When We Talk About Love collection the story is narrated in the first person by a man called Duane and in the space of an afternoon Carver details the breakdown of Duane’s relationship with his wife, Holly. One thing that is interesting about the story is that Carver never tells the reader the name of the motel that Duane and Holly are running but we do learn that they have really acted more as visitors to the motel than as managers. This may be important as it suggests to the reader that both Duane and Holly lack the responsibility that is required when it comes to running a motel. It is also very early on in the story that the reader realises that Holly is unhappy in the marriage. She is aware that Duane has had an affair with the motel’s maid Juanita and she can’t see any future in her relationship with Duane. The fact that Holly is aware that Duane has cheated on her may also be important as it serves to highlight to the reader (and to Holly) that she cannot trust Duane.

What is also interesting is that while Duane is pleading with Holly to stay with him, both Duane and Holly are drinking Teachers whiskey. It is possible that Carver, by naming the whiskey, is symbolically suggesting that Duane still has a lot to learn when it comes to the responsibilities that are required in order to keep a marriage together. The reader also learns that all of Duane’s and Holly’s major decisions have been made while they are drinking. Carver giving the reader an example of this when the reader learns that Duane and Holly made the decision to run the motel over a few nights of drinking whiskey. However despite their initial enthusiasm (in running the motel), both Duane and Holly have stopped caring about how the motel is run. This may be important as it again suggests to the reader that neither Duane nor Holly are fully taking responsibility for the running of the motel. It may also highlight to the reader the fact that Holly has lost heart. She is aware of Duane’s infidelity and no longer has the enthusiasm she once had when it comes to running the motel.

Apart from the whiskey Carver also uses symbolism when Holly is reminiscing about the time she and Duane were in the country and they stopped by a house that had a gazebo. The gazebo appears to symbolize happiness to Holly. Even though Holly is aware that the gazebo is no longer used, what it once represented to the old woman who tells Holly the story of the gazebo also mirrors Holly’s outlook or perception on life. Like the gazebo, which once brought happiness to the old woman and her husband, Holly can still remember a time when she was happy with Duane. However she is now fully aware that she will not live the dignified life she imagines that the old woman and her husband have lived. Though Holly wants the same loving relationship that the old couple had she is aware that it is no longer possible (due to Duane cheating on her). Another interesting thing about the old couple is the fact that Holly suggests to Duane that they may be dead. This could be important as it is possible that Holly is also suggesting to Duane that just as the old couple may be dead, likewise her relationship with Duane may also be dead.

How Holly became aware of Duane’s infidelity is never explained to the reader but what is clear is that Duane, while he is in the motel room with Holly, still feels that the marriage has a chance. However as Duane is telling Holly that they can be still be together he is thinking of Juanita and the time he spent with her. This is important for two reasons, firstly because it highlights to the reader the idea (or theme) of memories. While Holly can remember the old couple with the gazebo and a life she wished for, Duane can remember how much he enjoyed being with Juanita, even though he is married to Holly. The second reason it is important is because it also highlights (for the reader) how far apart both Holly and Duane are in what they are looking for in life. Holly wants the peacefulness of growing old with someone, while Duane prefers the somewhat faster life (and thrill) of sleeping with Juanita.

It is only at the end of the story that Duane, like Holly, comes to the conclusion that the marriage is over. Both seem to be seeking different things out of life. Holly has spent her time looking after the transient life of others (managing the motel) while in reality she longs for something more rooted, something she can hold on to (like the old couple with the gazebo). Not even the alcohol, which she and Duane have relied on (in crisis) can help Holly in forgetting what she really wants in life. She is to live her life, apart and separated from Duane, something that Duane also appears to realize.

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


  • What do you think is the significance of the final line “In this, too, she was right”? (Which comes after when Holly seems intent on leaving Duane.)

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Gunjan. I think that Carver may be suggesting that Holly is making the right decision when it comes to leaving Duane. She realises that he is not prepared to make the same kind of commitment that she is to the relationship. Holly knows that she can’t trust Duane and Duane knows it too.

      • I guess there also seems to be some self loathing in the character. At times it also seemed like maybe he was trying to justify or plead to not only Holly but the reader too. Another interesting line (after he thinks of Juanita while apologizing) was : “I don’t know what’s going to happen to me or to anyone else in the world.”

        Oh, and I ordered Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? today so looking forward to reading more of his work. Thanks for the recommendation.

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          With that line I think there is a sense that Duane’s life will change for the worse without Holly being there for him. She seems to have been the one who kept things going while she pursued her/their dream. Good luck with Will You Please Be Quiet, Please. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Duane and Holly are alcoholic drifters, temporarily acting as managers of a run-down motel. Both of them are obviously both untrustworthy and irresponsible. They’ve wrecked their own lives, and, undoubtedly , they’ve wrecked the lives of at least a few other people they’ve come into contact with over the years.

    Carver’s magic is that, in spite of their countless faults and weaknesses, he cares deeply about these two people, and he causes the reader to care deeply about them as well.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for that insight H W. I tend to agree with you somewhat. When I read the story I felt for both characters however I leaned more towards Holly. Possibly because her dreams were shattered on discovery that Duane had cheated on her. Both characters appeared to use each other as crutches though Holly for me was the stronger character.

  • Regarding the last line… It is said right after mentioning that someone “rattled the door” and two cars went out “into the traffic” because none of them opened. This relates to the story of the old couple and the gazebo. Holly said that she expected to grow old together as a couple and “people would come to our door”. People have indeed come to their door but no one opened, meaning they cannot fulfill that dream she had because their relationship is over. She is “smart” and knows things before him, Duane said so before, so, their breakup is what she was right about in that last line.

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