Jerry and Molly and Sam by Raymond Carver

In Jerry and Molly and Sam by Raymond Carver we have the theme of change, insecurity, guilt, control and conflict. Taken from his Will You Please Be Quiet, Please collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator. Very early on in the story Carver explores (slightly) one of the main themes of the story, that of insecurity. Al, the main protagonist in the story, is worried about his job in Aerojet. Though he has been there for nearly three years, he still knows his job is not secure. Carver also explores insecurity again later in the story when Betty (Al’s wife) tells Al that ‘It’s us! It’s us! I know you don’t love me any more –goddamn you! – but you don’t even love the kids.’ Not only is Betty insecure but what she tells Al also highlights the idea of conflict (internal) within Betty. The theme of conflict is further explored in the story when the reader discovers that Al is having an affair and that ‘he didn’t know what to do about it.’ Again this would be an internal conflict (for Al).

There is also a further conflict within Al in the story, which is notable. This occurs when Al is shaving (and after he has gotten rid of Suzy). Carver telling the reader that Al felt he had ‘made the gravest mistake this time. I believe I have made the gravest mistake of all.’ It is also significant that Al is looking in the mirror when he realises that he has made a mistake in getting rid of Suzy. Significant because for the first time in the story, he is not only physically looking at himself (in the mirror) but morally too. Which triggers his feelings of guilt. Al’s awareness that he has done something wrong (by getting rid of Suzy) and his feeling of guilt are also noticeable just before he goes into the bathroom to shave. Betty tells him that she wants him to drive around and to look for Suzy. Al replies to Betty by telling her ‘…Yes! Anything! Just let me wash up first, will you.’ Al knows that he has made a mistake.

The idea or theme of change (or sometimes the lack of it) is also noticeable several times in the story. First there is the fact that Al believes by getting rid of Suzy, it will be the beginning of a positive change in his life. He knows he needs to change, though he is misguided to believe that by getting rid of Suzy, it will be the impetus for change. There are also several other examples in the story that highlight the lack of change in Al’s life. First there is Molly in the bar. After Al leaves and is driving to Jill’s house, Carver tells the reader that Al felt ‘if he’d been in a different frame of mind, he could have picked her up.’ This is significant as it highlights that Al hasn’t changed. The reader will recall that he picked Jill up in a bar. He is doing the exact same thing again (no change) but this time with a different woman. The other incident in whereby there is no change is more symbolic. After he has had his shave, Al decides against a shower and doesn’t change his clothes. This further highlights that not only does Al need to change clothes (he slept in them) but he also needs to change his life (stop having affair). However in all probability he won’t.

There are also several examples in the story which suggest to the reader the theme of control. There is the fact that Al is aware that he needs to reshape his life. He incorrectly believes that the first step in regaining control of his life is by getting rid of Suzy. Also the reader is ware that Al is having an affair with Jill. Though the narrator tells the reader that Al didn’t know what to do about it, it further suggests an awareness (from Al) that not only does he need to change but he has to look at this affair with Jill in order to again, regain some sort of control in his life. Jerry, the barman in the story, though he is only briefly mentioned, is also significant. Significant because he can fix Molly’s washing machine motor. This in some ways mirrors what Al is trying to do, he is trying to fix his life. Or again, regain control over it.

The ending of the story is also significant as it further suggests the idea or theme of guilt, conflict and change. As Al is driving and looking for Suzy, it is obvious that he is continuing to feel guilty about having abandoned her. The narrator telling the reader that Al felt that ‘A man who would get rid of a little dog wasn’t worth a damn.’ Just after this statement the reader learns that Al, ‘He knew the situation was all out of proportion now but he couldn’t help it.’ Not only does this suggest an internal conflict within Al but on a different level it also suggests that Al is fully aware that there is a need for change in his life and getting rid of Suzy was not the type of change that Al needed. It also suggests a lack of control, Al isn’t able to control what is happening in his life.

Carver closes the story with symbolism, for change. The reader is already aware that Al considers Suzy to be stupid. His opinion is further compounded by the fact that despite calling Suzy, she eventually runs around the fence and out of sight. However despite his opinion of Suzy, Al is relieved to have found her, ‘he didn’t feel so bad, all things considered. The world was full of dogs. There were dogs and there were dogs. Some dogs you just couldn’t do anything with.’ The last statement in the story is important as it not only suggests that Suzy will remain the same but also possibly Al too, despite his awareness and wish to control or change his life, he may not actually do so.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Jerry and Molly and Sam by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.


  • Did you understand why the story is called “Jerry and Molly and Sam”? What is the significance of Jerry and Molly? Who’s Sam?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Andrew. I know who Jerry is and I know who Molly is but I could never figure out who Sam was. He may be an unmentioned drinker in the bar. I think Jerry and Molly are significant because Jerry is able to help Molly with her washing machine. He can fix things while Al is unable to fix anything in his life. Similarly Carver may be suggesting by introducing the name Sam into the story that others can fix things again unlike Al.

    • Sam is his childhood dog

    • Sam is the setter (the dog) the pratogonist used to hunt pheasants with.

  • I have just read this story and wondered too who Sam was. Because Jerry and Molly were located in the bar, I liked to think Sam might be the piano player in the background (like in Casablanca). But that was probably just my imagination getting carried away with the scene being played out. By putting Sam in the title but not referencing him at all in the story was quite clever as it gives the reader something to think about and maybe come up with their own version of who Sam is.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Angela. Like you I have often wondered who Sam was but could never figure it out. I like your idea that he could be the piano player in the bar. For me I always thought that Sam might be another drinker in the bar who like Jerry is able to fix things.

  • Sam was his childhood dog only ever mentioned once by name in the story when he’s remembering his childhood as he is searching for a place to get rid of Suzy near his old neighborhood.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment and insight Ellany. I couldn’t figure out who Sam was but thanks to you I now know. Thank you.

  • Any idea what the blackheads Jill squeezes are symbolic of?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Just as a blackhead might be considered to be an unwanted blemish on an individual’s skin. Likewise symbolically Carver may be suggesting that Al has a blemish (or many) in his life. Something we as readers are aware of through his affair with Jill.

    • Blackheads symbolize the grotesqueness of his affair, life and poor decisions coming to a head. The act of his mistress purging him of imperfections add to the continued irony in this mans conflicted life.

  • I think you should further clarify how the examples you used in the first paragraph connect and prove the theme of insecurity. Anyhow, I appreciate your meticulous review.

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