I Could See the Smallest Things by Raymond Carver
In I Could See the Smallest Things by Raymond Carver we have the theme of regret, change, control, paralysis and awareness. Taken from his What We Talk About When We Talk About Love collection the story is narrated in the first person by a middle-aged woman called Nancy and after reading the story the reader realises that Carver may be exploring the theme of regret. There is a sense that Sam regrets that he is no longer friends with Cliff (Nancy’s husband) and despite having fallen out with Cliff, the reader suspects that Sam longs to be friends with Cliff again. It is also noticeable that of all the characters in the story Sam appears to be the only one who has made any changes in his life. Some of these changes have been through choices that Sam has made (giving up drinking) while others have been due to circumstances outside his control (his first wife dying and then Sam remarrying again).
If anything Sam is very different to both Nancy and Cliff, particularly Cliff, who throughout the story remains in the same position (asleep in bed). This may be important as it is possible that Carver, by keeping Cliff in the one place (bed), is suggesting that Cliff remains stuck or paralysed in his life, unlike Sam who appears to be in control of or at least putting some sort of shape into his life. The fact that Nancy tells Sam that Cliff is the ‘same as ever’ may also be important as it further suggests a lack of change in Cliff’s life. Though it is not clearly stated as to whether Cliff, like Sam, has a problem when it comes to alcohol it is possible that Cliff is an alcoholic and unlike Sam, continues to drink.
There is also a sense of irony in the story. Despite Nancy telling the reader that she ‘could see the smallest things’ when she was looking out her bedroom window, there is sense that Nancy remains unaware of any changes that she may need to make in her life. At no stage does Nancy suggest to the reader that she may need to leave Cliff (due to his drinking, again assuming that Cliff is an alcoholic), rather Nancy appears to be focused on the world outside throughout the story, rather than looking inwards at her marriage to Cliff. The fact that Nancy is unable to move Cliff when she first wakes up may also be important as it further suggests that there will be no movement (or change) in Nancy’s life. Rather it would appear that Nancy will continue to look outwards (at the world around her) rather than inwards (towards her marriage).
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. It is possible that by introducing the slugs into the story and Sam’s attempts to limit the damage they are doing to his garden that Carver is also symbolically suggesting that Sam wishes to remain in control of his life. The fact that Sam puts the slugs into a jar after killing them may also be symbolically important as again Carver may be suggesting that Sam wants to keep things ‘contained’ or at least under his control. The white fence that Sam built (after falling out with Cliff) may also be symbolically important. It is possible that by putting the fence around his garden, Sam’s intention was to put some distance or at least separate himself from Cliff. The fact that Cliff also built a fence, when there was no need to, also suggests that Cliff too wished to separate himself from Sam. The gate at the front of Nancy’s garden that she thinks may have opened during the night may also be symbolically important as it is possible that Carver is suggesting, that just as the gate may have opened, likewise Nancy may need to open her mind and take a look at her marriage to Cliff. Sam’s flashlight may also be important as just as he is shining the light on the slugs, it is possible that Carver is also suggesting that Nancy too, needs to shine some light on her marriage to Cliff and look closer at their relationship.
The ending of the story is also interesting as it would appear that Carver is further exploring the theme of not only change but paralysis too. After Nancy gets back into bed she, when looking at Cliff dribbling, is reminded of the slugs that Sam has been trying to kill (and control). This may be important as it is possible that Nancy is beginning to realise that she needs to take control of her own life (and change). However by having Nancy tell the reader that she had to ‘hurry up and sleep’ it is possible that Carver is suggesting that there will be no change in Nancy’s life. She is to remain as she always has, stuck in her marriage to the possibly alcoholic Cliff. With no chance of moving on as Sam has done. Out of all the characters in the story the only one who has made a change in his life is Sam.