Intimacy by Raymond Carver

In the short story Intimacy by Raymond Carver we have the theme of memory, struggle, letting go and closure. Taken from his Elephant and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and though the reader never learns the name of the narrator, very early on in the story we discover that he is a fiction writer and he is visiting his ex-wife who is also unnamed. What is interesting (prior to the narrator meeting his ex-wife) is that we learn that over time the narrator has been sending clippings or interviews he has done with magazines to his ex-wife. He tells the reader that he was unaware as to why he did this, but felt that she might be interested. This is important because it highlights to the reader that even though the marriage is over, the narrator still has difficulty letting go of the past.

If the narrator has difficulty of letting go of the past, again very early on the reader finds that the narrators ex-wife also has difficulty letting go (though does succeed in the end). When he knocks on the door, the narrator’s ex-wife answers him but there is no sense of bonding between them (no intimacy, no kiss or handshake). Even though there is an obvious dislike for the narrator (by the ex-wife) there is also an obvious sense of some type of connection remaining between the narrator and his ex-wife. Even though she scolds him, the reader is still aware that she still has feelings (of sorts) for the narrator, even if they are unpleasant feelings.

As she is talking to the narrator the reader learns that it was the narrator and not his ex-wife who ended the relationship. We also learn of the difficulties that the ex-wife felt over the ending of the relationship. Though there is a sense of struggle (for the ex-wife), it soon becomes clear that the narrator is also struggling to let go of the past. It would seem that through dialogue (or conversation and time) the narrator’s ex-wife has finally moved on and accepted the past. There is an interesting moment while the narrator is listening to his ex-wife berating him and he gets down on his knees and holds onto the hem of her dress. This is interesting because it may suggest that the narrator understands that he has caused some pain to his ex-wife (admittance) and that he is seeking her forgiveness. As if he realises to let go of the past (and his life with his ex-wife) he must first seek his ex-wife’s forgiveness. There is the idea that her approval (or forgiveness) will help him move on.

At first it doesn’t look like the narrators ex-wife is ready to forget the past but again Carver does an interesting thing and brings in a third character (in dialogue) into the story. The narrator’s ex-wife has remarried and she is afraid that her husband Fred will come home and see the narrator in the house. This is important for two reasons. First because the narrators ex-wife realises that she would find it difficult to explain to Fred why her ex-husband was kneeling on the floor and secondly because it emphasises (in some ways) that the narrator’s ex-wife has finally moved on from her life with the narrator. She wants the narrator to leave. She has let go of her past and has the closure that she needs.

To further highlight that the narrators ex-wife has moved on (or found closure) we learn that as the narrator is leaving the house his ex-wife is standing by the door saying nothing (nothing needs to be said as far as the ex-wife is concerned, she has said everything she needs to say). And as the narrator is walking away she closes the door and goes back inside the house. This may symbolize the closing of the door on her past. Finally moving on.

While it is clear that the narrator’s ex-wife has moved on it is also obvious to the reader that the narrator hasn’t. Even though he is with another woman, as he walks away from the house Carver uses the symbolism of the falling leaves (which also suggest memory) to highlight to the reader that the narrator is still struggling to let go of the past (the leaves surround the narrator). Even though he knows that the leaves should really be cleared up by somebody (again removing memories) it is obvious by the end of the story that the narrator (unlike his ex-wife) has not let go of the past and has not got the closure that his ex-wife has.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Intimacy by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 21 Feb. 2014. Web.


  • What you said is fine. I don’t think either of them is unscathed, but I see your logic, in a comparative sense.

  • I somehow get the feeling that this could be quite autobiographical. Carver did get divorced and had a very troubled relationship with his first wife. There was a lot ‘intimacy’ until he fell out of love. Seems like an excerpt from a vague memory of his.

  • I read something very different in this story, which incidentally is one of my favourites of any writer of short fiction.

    The ex wife’s insistence that the new husband will be home soon is not particularly sincere, and the leaves at the end would suggest he hasn’t been around to clean them up. I feel like Carver is trying to point us to a dynamic of the relationship between the ex wife and the narrator that is not particular obvious. There is still a bond there that both are cautious of.

    Firstly the wife does not want the narrator to know she is alone, and thus make herself vulnerable to the presence of a person she still has a strong bond with (and feelings for?) Who she has made mistakes with in the past.

    Secondly, the narrator has this habit of maintaining communication, the clippings, the visit. He’s hurt that the reconciliation hasn’t gone well, and the presence of the leaves in the yard irk him further. If he lived here, these leaves would be cleaned up by now.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks Chris.

    • I’d agree with both of your analyses of this piece, particularly with the imagery of leaves; when we consider on a literal level that they were once alive but then die with the passing of the seasons, the fact that there are piles of them still around, represent the residual feelings this couple have for each other – albeit as a reminder to the colour and vitality that their relationship once had.

  • To me the narrator is of a typical narcissistic personality, who has neither true emotions nor empathy to his ex-wife. He clearly barges into her life, after bad separation and 4 years of hard work to build a new life for herself, but he is totally inconsiderate of that, like he’s been while married to her. She has grown up and changed, while he is stuck with his life, albeit the fact that he has a new wife.

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