Nobody Said Anything by Raymond Carver

Nobody Said Anything - Raymond CarverIn Nobody Said Anything by Raymond Carver we have the theme of conflict, escape, desire, curiosity and resolution. Taken from his Will You Please Be Quiet, Please collection the story is narrated in the first person by a young teenage boy called R. and begins with R. waking up and hearing his parents arguing. Immediately the reader becomes aware of the conflict (external) in R.’s life. R. also wakes his brother George hoping he will get out of bed and say something to his parents but George ignores R. preferring to go back to sleep. George’s actions or rather his lack of action may be important as it in some ways acts as a foreshadowing to the parents continued arguing at the end of the story. The fact that R. asks George to do something about his parents’ arguing also suggests that R. wishes to resolve the issue (of his parents’ arguing). This may be important as throughout the story and particularly at the end of the story, R. makes several attempts when he encounters conflict to find some sort of resolution.

What is also interesting is that in comparison George and R. are very different from each other. Though we never hear George’s voice or opinion (apart from in the opening page) it doesn’t appear that he is as effected by his parents arguing as much as R. seems to be. This may be down to the fact that George is still a young boy, several years younger than his brother and may not be fully aware (as much as R.) of his parents constant arguing. R.’s decision to play hooky from school, on the pretence that he has an upset stomach, is also significant for several reasons. Firstly by not attending school, R. is in some ways escaping from his normal routine. Another reason it is important is that Carver may be suggesting that R. is effected by the continued arguing of his parents and may be retreating into himself.

There are further instances in the story, particularly while R. is waiting for his mother to go to work, that highlight the idea (or theme) of escape. R. turns on the TV, even though there is no volume, it is a form of escape, if anything R. is detaching himself from the reality of his environment (and his parents arguing). R. also starts to read one of Edgar Rice Burroughs stories, The Princess of Mars. R. possibly using reading, as he does the TV, to escape from the realities of his parents arguing. Carver also explores the idea of curiosity. After his mother has gone to work R. goes into his parents’ bedroom to see what he can find. The reader learns that he has previously searched his parents’ bedroom for contraceptives but never found any. Also he is curious as to what the Vaseline is used for. Again these incidents may be important as they not only highlight to the reader R.’s curious nature but they also serve to further highlight R.’s need to escape from the world he finds himself in.

Carver continues to explore the conflict (internal) that R. feels after his mother has gone to work. He believes that he masturbates too much and on one occasion he swears on the bible and ‘promised and swore that I wouldn’t do it again.’ Another instance of internal conflict within the story is when R. gets out of the woman’s car, after getting a lift from her. He is annoyed with himself because he didn’t know what to say to her. What is also interesting about the incident with the woman (whereby R. fantasizes that she takes him home and has sex with him), is that it shows the reader R.’s desire to sleep with her. Though it would be normal for a teenage boy to fantasize about an older woman it is also possible that by introducing R.’s fantasy into the story Carver is again suggesting or highlighting R.’s need to escape.

The incident of R. trying to catch the fish with the younger boy is also significant as it is through their actions that the reader can see not only conflict (arguing over who should have which half of the fish) but also resolution. This idea of resolution (between both boys) is explored twice. Firstly they agree to carry the fish on a stick, each holding an end of the stick, however R. is still suspicious about whether the boy will cycle away with the fish. Also both boys finally resolve the matter of who will take what part of the fish with R. telling the boy that whoever takes the tail end, can also have the green trout that R. has caught.

R.’s ability to resolve issues is further noticeable later in the story when he returns home, though it is also noticeable that he is not as successful as he was with the young boy. When R. arrives home he hears his parents arguing (conflict again). What is interesting about them arguing is that they are not arguing about where R. may be (though he did leave a note) rather they appear to be arguing over whether or not R.’s father has been with other women. In an effort to defuse the situation R. opens the kitchen door and shows his mother the fish in the creel. Rather than being happy R.’s mother is outraged thinking the fish is a snake and tells him to take it out of the kitchen. What happens next is surprising because for the first time in the story the reader sees common agreement between R.’s parents, his father also tells him to take the fish out of the house. There is a sense of irony in both of R.s parents agreeing with each other, ironic because by agreeing with each other, rather than bringing the family closer together, which is what R. wants, both parents manage to alienate R.

The ending of the story is interesting as it is while R. is outside the house holding the fish that the reader realizes that in some ways R.’s parents are treating R. just like the fish. His father by telling him ‘Take it the hell out of the kitchen and throw it in the goddamn garbage,’ not only manages to alienate R. but he also manages to treat him as if he were garbage or of no worth (just like the fish). It may also be important that Carver has R. sitting underneath the porch light as by doing so Carver manages to put the spot light or focus on R. something that neither of R.’s parents have managed to do. At no stage in the story does it appear that either of R.’s parents are taking into consideration how he might feel, watching and hearing them arguing all the time, rather they appear to be focused on themselves.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Nobody Said Anything by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.


  • I am currently reading will you please be quiet and I seem to be looking to your page a lot for explanations, I am both annoyed at myself for being easily perplexed by carvers stories and also happy that someone has given this a good deal of thought to understand the story.

    A few points in this interpretation that I don’t agree with

    1. The escapism part is not something I agree with as most teenage boys would follow the same schedule of playing hooky, indulging in a few habits and some alone time, I don’t think that can be specific to R alone

    2. The fight between his parents could have been for any number of reasons, highlighting the infidelity angle is a bit of an extrapolation.

    3. I feel that R goes to his parents room quite often not only for curiosity but also to remind himself of the intimacy that they once had and probably still might, which might be the reason he strives hard to resolve their fights.

    Please let me know what you think

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Santosh. You make some valid points. Most teenage boys would follow the same pattern as R. so his activities would not be unique to him.

      You are also right that the fight between the parents could be based on any number of things. The reason I suggested infidelity is because when I wrote the post I was researching an article that related to the story and infidelity seemed to fit in with the direction I was taking the post.

      With regard to R. visiting his parents room. I like your suggestion that he is reminding himself of the intimacy that his parents have (or might of had) and he may long for the same intimacy. Something that is noticeable when he takes the lift from the woman and imagines himself sleeping with her.

    • Hey Santosh, you captured my thoughts exactly regarding this website. I’m gravitating to it a lot since beginning Carver also.

      I wanted to raise a point about your first observation on escapism.

      A short story really cannot allow for any excess language or character development. Famously careful with his word selection and character descriptions, if Carver has chosen to portray R. acting in an escapist manner and also playing hooky then it is for a very good reason.

      The beauty of art and stories is that it’s all ultimately a projection of our own lived experience and interpretation.

    • Same here – I’ve been coming here after every story from Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? so far. Finding it very helpful.

  • hi, I just noticed that both the fishes He took are quite “strange or sick” in their description. I think Carver wants to tell us something..but I miss the interpretation of what it could be..

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m not sure myself. Perhaps Carver (for himself) is suggesting that R.’s behaviour is ‘strange or sick.’ I’m really not sure. For me R. is an adolescent boy who is doing normal things. He is inquisitive as a teenager would be.

      • It could be that the fish are sick in order to symbolise the fact that R’s day of escapism ultimately has to come to an end, and he’ll have to return to conflict. The sickness could also be mirroring R’s excuse of being sick in order to have his day of escapism.

  • sure that he is a normal boy. Both the fish don’t have a good aspect and they look sick…why?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      If the fish are a reflection of the boys. Perhaps the outlook for both boys is not good. R. at the end of the story is alone on the back porch wondering what has happened to him and his family.

  • The cutting of the fish in half may foreshadow a divorce for the parents.

    • Oh and the title refers to the parents not talking to the children about what they are going through and the the children not asking about what’s going on.

    • That’s interesting. Maybe that’s also why the fish are both sick. His parent’s marriage is ‘sick’/failing, maybe they’ll get divorced. Maybe R also feels split between the two parents, wanting them to resolve their conflict (the way he resolved the conflict with the little boy over the fish). His efforts were sadly discarded by both parents when he was asked by both to throw the halved fish (the result of a resolved conflict) in the garbage. Perhaps because there is no resolution to be had. The fish is just sick.

  • Haha! 7th time I am visiting this page today after I started reading WYPBQ,P?
    R. wondered why the first fish didn’t put up a fight although it was fat. Maybe that fish symbolised his parents’ marriage where they’re both giving up on it without much of a fight. The other fish, skinny and sickly, but massive, possibly symbolised R. himself. Skinny, sickly boy who was trying hard to keep his parents together. Being cut in half would probably be a result of his parents getting a divorce and R. getting split between his two parents.

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