Mr Coffee and Mr Fixit by Raymond Carver
In Mr Coffee and Mr Fixit by Raymond Carver we have the theme of change, conflict, connection, acceptance and alcoholism. Taken from his What We Talk About When We Talk About Love collection the story is narrated in first person by an unnamed narrator and very early on Carver introduces the reader to two of the main themes of the story, the theme of conflict and acceptance. The narrator can recall when he saw his mother kiss her boyfriend on the sofa of her house. Though the narrator feels an unease or internal conflict because of his mother’s actions the reader soon learns that over time the narrator has also managed to accept his mother’s actions. Over the passing of time the narrator appears to have realised that his mother is human too, that she too needs to be allowed to move on (as the narrator has) from her husband’s death. A death that the reader will find (at the end of the story) may have been caused by alcohol abuse.
Carver continues to explore the theme of conflict and acceptance throughout the story. There is the fact that the narrator’s wife (Myrna) was previously seeing another man called Ross or Mr Fixit as the narrator prefers to call him, while they where still living together. What is also interesting about Ross is that the narrator accepted him and in some ways empathized or understood him. Both have had problems with alcohol (as does Myrna). It is also significant that Carver is using alcohol in the story as symbolism for connection (Ross, the narrator, his father and Myrna). There is also a sense of irony with Ross being called Mr Fixit. Ironic because Ross wasn’t able to fix things at all (TV and cars as an example).
What is also interesting about the story is that Carver may be suggesting that the American dream has a downside or that it is unattainable for the majority of people. It is significant that Carver writes that Ross told Melody that he worked on the moon shots and that he was close friends with the astronauts. The moon landing would have been a major achievement in American history. Particularly for the fact that they were recognised as the first. The astronaut’s themselves became major celebrities and having an association with them (Ross said he was close friends with them) would have magnified a person’s position or increased the perception of their importance. It is quite likely that Carver may be suggesting that for the majority of people, they will live relatively unknown lives and the fact that Ross eventually loses his job and goes back drinking suggests he disappeared into obscurity (or remained unknown).
The very first sentence in the story is also interesting. It is significant that it is in the past tense. That the narrator (as we are aware from the story) is looking back at his old life. He appears to have not only changed his life (by giving up alcohol) but he has also begun to understand the serious effects that alcohol can have on a person’s life. However what is really interesting is that the narrator also appears to have moved on and let go of his past. He no longer has animosity towards his mother’s boyfriends, towards Myrna or towards Ross. Things have changed for the narrator.
The theme of change is further explored in the story. At the beginning of the story the reader realises that the narrator’s life started to change when he lost his job. ‘I was out of work. My kids were crazy, and my wife was crazy.’ The narrator also tells the reader that ‘Things are better now.’ Over a three-year period the narrator’s life appears to have improved greatly. Just as things changed for the narrator, life also changed for Ross. The reader is aware that he only succeeded in giving up alcohol for a short period of time. The trigger for his return to drinking was the loss of his job. Though the narrator’s life changed for the positive, it appears that Ross’ life changed for the negative.
It is at the end of the story that Carver explores the theme of alcoholism a little further too. The narrator relays to the reader that he recalls his father dying eight years ago. There is a suggestion that the narrator’s father was also an alcoholic ‘He came home from the sawmill, took some sausages out of the freezer for his breakfast, and popped a quart of Four Roses.’ It is possible that the narrator is not only attributing alcohol abuse to the difficulties that the other characters (Ross and Myrna) incurred in life but that it also had a role in his father’s early death too. Not only has alcohol bonded (or connected) characters in the story (Ross, the narrator and Myrna) but it has also killed them (narrator’s father).