Popular Mechanics by Raymond Carver

Popular Mechanics - Raymond CarverIn Popular Mechanics by Raymond Carver we have the theme of separation, conflict, struggle and communication (or rather the lack of it). Taken from his What We Talk About When We Talk About Love collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and the tone of the story is one of anger and aggression. It begins with an unnamed male packing his suitcase while his wife (or girlfriend) looks on. Immediately the reader can sense the distance between the two characters (she is standing by the door while he is standing by the side of the bed) and if anything (and as the reader is told), the wife/girlfriend is pleased that her husband/boyfriend is leaving. This physical distance between both characters is important because it sets the scene for later in the story when it becomes obvious that both characters no longer wish to be with each other. Unfortunately the narrator never tells the reader the reason for the couple’s separation but it is obvious that it is not amicable.

The opening line of the story is also interesting. Carver opens the story by telling the reader ‘Early that day the weather turned and the snow was melting into dirty water.’ This opening sentence is important because it acts as symbolism. Snow is white and usually in literature white would symbolize or represent some sort of purity or cleanliness. It is possible that Carver may be suggesting to the reader, through symbolism, that what was once a healthy, loving relationship between the couple has been tainted in some way. Lighting also plays a significant part in the setting of the story. Very early on the reader is aware that it is getting dark not only outside but inside as well. In some ways the lack of light (or the darkness) acts as foreshadowing within the story, something that becomes clearer to the reader as we see both parents struggling with the baby.

Carver also uses short sentences throughout the story which gives an emphasis to the finality of the relationship between both characters. Whatever has caused the end of the relationship between both characters, it becomes clear to the reader that there is no going back or there will be no resolution between the two of them. The use of short sentences also helps or assists in raising the tension in the story. Another interesting thing about Carver’s language usage is his use of the word ‘little’ in the story. It is used at the beginning of the story when the narrator is describing the streaks running down the shoulder high window. It is also used later when the wife ‘stood in the doorway of the little kitchen, holding the baby.’ Its usage is important as Carver may be suggesting to the reader that the house is too small for three people (the couple and the baby) and that it was inevitable that the couple’s relationship would come to an end. What is also interesting or possibly symbolic is that Carver may be using the symbolism of the house (being too small) to suggest that the relationship between both parents will never grow.

Carver also uses symbolism when both parents are fighting over the baby. The flowerpot in the kitchen falls to the ground and breaks. Though it is only mentioned in one sentence, it acts as foreshadowing for what will happen later in the story as both parents are pulling on the baby. Though it is not expressly said by the narrator and it is open to interpretation, it may be a case that as both parents are pulling on the baby, they break the baby’s arm. If this is the case then the baby’s broken arm would mirror the relationship (between the parents) which also appears to be broken (or over).

The title of the story may also be important. Originally the story was called ‘Mine’ (which can be found in Carver’s ‘Beginners’ collection) and Carver’s editor Gordon Lish changed the title to ‘Popular Mechanics.’ There is a magazine called ‘Popular Mechanics’ which is a how-to style magazine and it is possible that by changing the title of the story, Lish was attempting to introduce irony into the story. Which he may have succeeded in doing as it becomes clear to the reader (after reading the story) that neither parent appears to know how to run or keep a family together. The story can also be found under another title (‘Little Things’) in Carver’s ‘Where I’m Calling From’ collection. It may also be a case that Carver by originally calling the story ‘Mine’ was highlighting to the reader that even though the parents are separating from each other, rather than considering the baby to be part of both their lives (ours) they are thinking about themselves (me or mine) and attempting to achieve their own goals (both parents want the baby). It is also possible that Carver is using the lack of light in the story (again) to suggest, at least symbolically, that both parents are in the dark as to the affects that their fighting has on the baby till it becomes too late.

What is also interesting at the end of the story is the final sentence, ‘In this manner, the issue was decided.’ It is a passive sentence and rather than it being someone (either parent) deciding or resolving the issue it is the pulling on the child that is deciding what will happen. Either the baby’s arm has been broken or more sinister, the child is being ripped apart in the struggle between both parents. There is also a sense of irony at the end of the story. Both parents want the baby and this is made clear by their fighting over him. However the last sentence suggests that neither parent may actually have succeeded in getting the child.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Popular Mechanics by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.


  • I don’t have a comment but I have a question. What are the different arrangements of the plot in the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Carver may be using the setting to develop the plot. It is winter, which in literature is often used to explore death (the baby may be killed at the end of the story). Also the darkness is approaching which may suggest not only that the couples relationship is over but that something dark is going to happen the baby. The fact that the man switches off the light in the bedroom before going into the kitchen may also suggest something sinister is going to happen. It is also interesting that Carver tells the reader that the ‘kitchen window gave no light.’ Again this can suggest that something sinister is going to happen.

    • What I want to know is why the baby wasn’t given a name?

      • Dermot (Post Author)

        Thanks for the comment Goot. By giving the baby a name it would have placed a further spotlight on the baby and taken the readers attention away from the parent’s fighting. Throughout the story the baby is viewed as a type of product by both parents. Something that they both want (without giving any consideration to the baby). Naming him would have lessened the impact of the parent’s fighting and personalized the baby’s plight even more while at the same time shifting the focus from the parent’s actions.

  • The last sentence of the story is deliberately ambiguous; that is, author has intentionally left several possibilities for its meaning. What is “the issue” ? In what “manner” is it decided? What are the various possibilities for answering those question?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The ending of the story (or last sentence) is ambiguous but it is possible that the ‘issue’ is who will have the baby and not what will happen the parent’s relationship, which appears to be over, with no reconciliation in sight. And the ‘manner’ to which the ‘issue’ is resolved may be the continued fighting (between the parents) over the baby, which in all likelihood may have caused an injury (if not worse) to the baby.

  • I think I love this short story even though it’s overwhelmingly a mysterious one. I have however failed to find a particular tone since the narrator seems detached from the narrative. Would it be the same as mood were it’s evident that there’s a tense and sombre atmosphere? Please also shed more light on the last indeterminate question at the end of the short story: “In this manner, the issue was decided.” and the struggle before it. Who ended up with the baby?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It is a mysterious story. Usually tone (I think) refers to the feeling that the writer (in this case Carver) is trying to convey to the reader and due to the actions of both parents (fighting over the baby), I have suggested that the tone of the story is one of anger and aggression (though I would agree with you that the narrator is somewhat detached from what is happening). Mood (I think in literature) refers to how the reader feels about or responds to a story. However I would agree with you that the mood (between both parents) is one of tension. I would also agree with your suggestion that there is a sombre atmosphere. I think sombre could also be used to describe the tone of the story. The end of the story is ambiguous so it’s difficult to say for sure what happens or who may end up with the baby. Personally I think (due to the actions of both parents) neither parent may succeed in getting him. If anything the struggle for the baby (I think) may have resulted in a serious injury (if not worse) to the baby. It is for that reason I have suggested that there is a sense of irony at the end of the story, both parents want the baby but neither may actually succeed in getting him.

  • Who is the main character in the story??

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It’s difficult to say for certain who the main character in the story is as Carver seems to keep the focus for most of the story on both parents and the hostility they feel towards each other, though the reader never gets any insight into what may have been the initial cause for this hostility. However at the end of the story Carver appears to shift the focus from the parents (and their continued arguing and fighting) and draws the reader’s attention to the baby. This may be intentional as Carver could be suggesting that the most important person in the story is the baby or at least the reader should be aware of the consequences or affects that the parent’s fighting has on him. While both parents are fighting neither one of them seems to be focused on the well-being of their child rather they may be more concerned about hurting each other (emotionally), though ironically it is possibly the baby who is hurt (physically) the most at the end of the story.

  • What do you think is the theme or message in the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It is possible that Carver is suggesting that when some people separate from each other or when a relationship comes to an end it may not always be amicable and that on occasions there may be conflict and hostility (the parents in the story) which may not only affect each individual or parent but there are also others too (the baby) who though innocent may also be affected. Which appears to be the case in the story. Though the reader can’t say for sure what may have happened the baby, in all likelihood he may have received a serious injury due to the parents fighting or worse he may have been killed.

  • I have a question, ‘how does Carver use darkness as foreshadowing?’

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Quite often in literature when a writer makes reference to a lack of light (or possible darkness) in a story they are usually attempting to symbolically link the darkness with something that may have already happened in the story or with an incident that is about to happen and which may not be a good thing (or could be seen to be a negative or dark act). It may be a case that by introducing the darkness into the story very early on, Carver was attempting to not only set the mood for the story but he may also have been using the darkness as a warning or indication for what was to happen later on in the story. Though we can never say for sure as to what has happened the baby at the end of the story, it is possible that by introducing the darkness, Carver was also suggesting that what was to happen the baby could also be considered to have been dark.

  • Love the website! Here’s my understanding of the ending: the baby is a symbol of the center of any conflict between people. The story builds up towards the end, with the explicitly progressing conflict between the couple and the implications from the surroundings (the light getting darker, the flowerpot breaking, the snow melting), to an apex where the stakes were at the highest and neither party was willing to (or rather, had the choice to) give up. There’s only two possibilities at this point: either someone gave in eventually, or the baby got hurt. Whichever the outcome was, it would likely happen within an instant, and either way we could say that the “issue” got “decided” in some fashion, albeit however temporarily and probably to no one’s satisfaction. The title “Popular Mechanics” to me might’ve been suggesting that the story is about how usually a conflict is settled, reaching a climax but ending somewhat anticlimactically, in the sense that things get decided within the split-second at the very end and nobody gets what they wanted.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Siyuan. You really shed a lot more light on the ending of the story than I have. I like your idea about the title of the story too. Gordon Lish (Carver’s editor) who gave the story the title may have been suggesting that the popular way to solve conflict is with conflict which appears to be the case in the story. And that by doing so neither party (in this case the parents) will get any satisfaction. So much happens in the story that is not said that I sometimes wonder is Carver also suggesting that what happens within a relationship or why a relationship may come to an end is only really known by the participants of the relationship.

      • Hello Dermot! I agree with this. Usually, only both parties know what destroyed the relationship. Moreover, each party will have their subjective reason as to why it ended and the reason is usually not identical.

  • Why do you think the main purpose the people are focusing on in the story is the baby? Do you think he wants the baby so the baby which is a boy can have a father figure in his life?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Reina. I’ve added both your comments together if you don’t mind. The reason the baby may be the main focus is because it is him who (appears) to be affected the most through his parent’s arguing. I’m not too sure if the father really wants the baby but rather instead wants to have something that his wife/girlfriend can’t have (the baby). It’s difficult to say for certain because the reader has no backdrop to judge either parent apart from the one incident in the apartment. At no stage in the story are either parent acting responsible when it comes to their child’s care.

  • What could be another ending for Popular Mechanics?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Genesis. It’s difficult to say what a different ending might be as each reader will interpret the story differently. For me (though it would change the impact of the story) it might have been nice to see both parents realise that their argument or fighting is causing trouble to their child. How Carver may have included a different ending I don’t know. Which parent would he have used to have an ‘awakening’ if you like or for them to realise or step back from their actions.

  • What is the character analysis in popular mechanics and how does the writer keep readers engaged in the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Carver at different stages throughout the story manages to place a focus on all the characters in the story. With both parents fighting the reader is given an insight into how dysfunctional their relationship is, with neither parent backing down. If anything both parents remain stubborn to the end of the story. Carver also manages to focus on the baby, though this is really only noticeable near the end of the story when the parents are physically fighting over him. But the reader is left aware that he is an innocent party throughout the story.

      Carver manages to keep the reader engaged by never letting the reader know as to why the parents are separating. We also never really know for sure what happens the baby. The focus for most of the story is on the fight between both parents with the reader continually wondering as to what may have caused the separation. Also though the reader expects at least one of the parents to become aware of the affects of their fighting on their child. This never happens. The reader expects some type of resolution, though none is clearly given by Carver. With it being left to each individual reader to interpret what happens the baby.

  • Do you think that it is possible that the baby was torn apart and killed. The mom was loosing grip and leaning back so she grabbed the other arm and the dad had the other end almost like they were playing tug of war. And when the dad pulled back very hard making it possible to split the baby just like how parents in a divorce can have split custody of a child.

    Also I think that the title is getting to the subject of divorce and how it is becoming a thing that we see more today making it “popular”. And I think that the mechanics comes from the steps that is taken to have a divorce and we as a reader are looking into one of the steps.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      There is a good chance that the baby has been pulled or torn apart and killed. I also like how you view the ‘splitting of the baby’ as if both parents are in someway getting custody of the child. Though not necessarily how they would like it to be.

      You could also be right about the title of the story. Carver (or his editor Gordon Lish) may be using the title to highlight to the reader just how common or popular divorce is in society today. And as you mention the reader is given some insight into the mechanics of divorce by seeing both parents fighting.

  • For the most part,the reader is left to imagine the emotion behind the words. What do you think is the tone of the woman’s words in the sentence ? “Oh,oh,she said,looking at the baby” line 31

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      You’re right. For most of the story the reader is left to imagine the emotions behind the words. I think maybe the mother is becoming aware of how both parents fighting is affecting the baby. Something that is more noticeable when she says ‘For God’s Sake!’ when her partner (or husband) moves closer to her to take the baby. If anything the mother is the first (and probably only) one of the parents to realise the affects the fighting has on the baby. She seems to be afraid. Not so much for her own safety but for the baby’s.

      • Thanks so much. Can I ask you more question? If you don’t mind.

        In the dialogue, almost everything is “he said, she said,” Therefore, “she cried” line 42 has great power. Where else does Caver use a verb to indicate tone of voice?

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          There are a few other occasions in whereby Carer uses a verb to indicate tone of voice. When the wife says ‘Just get your things and get out’ when her partner/husband is packing his suitcase. Also the man says ‘I want the baby’ and the wife answers ‘You’re not touching this baby.’ Later while both parents are in the kitchen the husband says ‘Let go of him (the baby)’. Near the end of the story the wife also screams – ‘No! she screamed just as her hands came loose.’

          • Thanks so much and the last question. Which other verbs have special power because they are unusual? (“Slushed,” line3, is one example.)

            • Dermot (Post Author)

              You might also look at ‘pushing clothes into a suitcase’, ‘putting his things into the suitcase.’ Both suggest a determination. ‘He moved toward her’ may also be important as it suggests the beginning of a conclusion (over what happens the baby). ‘Get away, get away’ may also suggest the distance that the mother wants between her and her husband/partner. ‘The kitchen window gave no light’ also suggests something sinister may be about to happen.

              Carver using words like ‘forced open’ ‘grabbed’ and ‘pulled back very hard’ in the last few paragraphs are also full of action which highlights the conflict that exists between both parents as they are fighting over the baby.

  • What would you consider the writing style of this story to be? It is obvious that the tone is the tension between the couple.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      There are two things that stand out for me when it comes to Carver’s writing style in the story. The first is his use of short sentences which as I mention not only highlights the sense of ‘ending’ to the couple’s relationship but also helps in raising the tension in the story. The second thing that stands out for me is the length of the paragraphs. Just how short the paragraphs are and how they act like steps to the final course of action taken by both parents. Carver also uses very simple or non-complex language throughout the story. Yet what happens at the end is far from simple or certain. Where there is no confusion with his word or language usage the reader is left unsure about what happens the baby at the end of the story.

  • I’d like to refer to this article in an essay I’m writing. However, there’s no author I can quote. Has this review been published somewhere else I can use?

    Thank you

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Hi Ricardo. You’ll find the author details underneath the title of the post. Just click on the ‘Cite Post’ link.

  • Man, this was a hell of a story! Totally on track with Hemingway’s iceberg theory.
    Love your website BTW!

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Mohamad. I would agree with you. It is a great story and Carver (like Hemingway at times) gives very little away.

  • This short story is very intriguing to me. The story’s theme, symbolism, and ending obviously will be interpreted differently by others. On the surface, the writing style is very odd and seems to make little sense. But when analysed, you can see why little details and references are important to how the issue should be interpreted. For me, the baby symbolizes the couple’s relationship. It is slowly and aggressively being torn apart and, unfortunately, is put to and abrupt end. And although the outcome of who gets the baby is not what the couple is expected, the answer is clear. Neither one will get the baby. At least that is my interpretation. But there is still one thing I can’t fully understand: The title. Why is it called ‘Popular Mechanics’? I know that this story has multiple names, ( like ‘Little Things’ and ‘Mine’ ) but it seems that the most popular name is ‘Popular Mechanics’. Is the title supposed to be ironic in some way?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment and insight Ryan. I think Carver by way of the title of the story is being ironic. As I mention in the post there is a how-to style magazine called Popular Mechanics but neither parent appears to know how to raise a child or at least does not put the child first. Which many would expect a parent to do. It is for this reason I think Lish (Carver’s editor) used the title Popular Mechanics to introduce irony into the story. I also like your suggestion that the baby himself symbolizes the parents relationship. Just as the relationship is being torn apart so too is the child. I didn’t see that when I read the story but do now.

  • I just wanted to see if I could shed some light into this dark themed story. There is a part of me that does not want to believe that the story ended in a disturbing manner with the baby’s blood and gore on the kitchen floor and/or on the parents.

    Toward the end, there is a line that states, “She would have it, this baby.” This suggests to me that Carver lets us know what will be the end result but still lets us in on the “mechanics,” further evidenced when the final “mechanic” of the story is the baby slipping out of the father’s hands.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Wilson. The line ‘She would have it, this baby’ really can change the ending of the story or at least the perceived ending to the story in whereby the baby comes to harm. The line also suggests that the mother is determined to ensure that she gets the baby. Even if she is fully aware that her relationship with the child’s father is over. She remains committed to the child. I hadn’t noticed the line when I was reading the story.

  • Thank you for this insightful review, I’d like to ask a question about the story though. How is the theme of lack of communication portrayed or evident in the story? I hope my question made sense, and thank you in advance.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Bayan. Due to the fact that the parents are fighting throughout the story rather than discussing positively what will happen the baby or who will end up getting the baby. I included the theme of lack of communication. The only real thing happening between the parents is fighting rather than talking.

  • Why did Raymond Carver change the title from ‘Mine’ to ‘Little Things’?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Austin. I know Carver’s editor Gordon Lish changed the title from ‘Mine’ (original title) to ‘Popular Mechanics’ when the story was published in ‘What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.’ When Carver republished the story in his ‘Where I’m Calling From’ collection he changed the title from ‘Mine’ to ‘Little Things.’ Though I don’t know why he decided to change the title again.

  • I don’t have a comment, its actually a question. What are the motivations for their actions and what would be a good theme statement for this story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Hi Jerome. The result of the parents motivations is to take ownership of their child. However without a backdrop to the story its difficult to say as to what is motivating the parents. Clearly they want their child (for themselves) however we never know as to why or how they reached this point. As for a thematic statement I imagine that Caver may be suggesting that those without a voice (the baby) should still be heard or taken into account.

  • More questions than comments. Carver’s style of short compact sentences were predominant early in his career, and exaggerated by “Lishe’s” heavy-handed editing. Carver’s ending to this story is also trade-mark Carver. He believed life like prose has no exact ending (except death), just another page is turned, the reader will have to make their own conclusions and continue. To my knowledge the only Carver story to have a happy sewn up ending, is Cathedral.

    Thank you

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Al. You have a deeper understanding of Carver’s train of thought than I do. I’ve read a lot of Carver’s stories and I tend to agree with you Cathedral may be the only ‘happy’ ending story I’ve read.

    • Retell the story from the baby’s perspective.

      Can any one help me?

  • Is this short story an Expository, Persuasive, Descriptive or Narrative?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Daniela. It is most likely a expository narrative. With Carver describing an incident.

  • Love this website! I have a question. What does the story suggest about the nature of power/power struggle between the two people?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Daniel. It is possible that the struggle between both characters overrides everything else. They forget about what is really important (the baby) and carry on as though their struggle for the baby is the most important thing. Rather than remaining focused on the baby and his needs.

  • Is there any info on how the public reacted to the short story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I haven’t come across any information that might look at or explain the public’s reaction to the story.

  • How do you feel this would connect with the real world?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment John. In the real world I would imagine there would be some police involved. Possibly having been called by a neighbour. Also the constant tugging on the child would leave a person in no doubt that the baby is being injured. I wouldn’t see anything positive from whatever the outcome may be.

      • Thank you for replying. I meant more on the lines of how would some of Carvers symbolism or metaphors connect with real world situations. Such as how you can tell the couple is struggling financially so they argue. Which is a very common occurrence on low income families.

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Sorry for the confusion John. The fact that the apartment is so small suggests that maybe the couple’s world is also small. They might not have a network in place to help them (if they struggle financially). Also both parents can only think about themselves which may suggest a lack of maturity. Similarly the mother holds the baby for most if not all of the story so there is an obvious attachment to the baby which the father is trying to break. By pulling on the baby.

  • How do you think Carver argues about the nature of marriage? I don’t know if you’ve also read Cathedral by him, if that helps.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Kevin. Tricky question. In Popular Mechanics marriage is all about conflict. In Cathedral the husband finds it hard to understand how his wife could have a male friend and he appears to be jealous of the friend (blind man). In Mr Coffee and Mr Fixit there appears to be acceptance for adultery. While in Jerry and Molly and Sam there is adultery again and selfishness. In I Could See the Smallest Things there is a sense that the marriage s paralyzed and the wife is willing to remain in a dysfunctional marriage. Each story looks at marriage from a different angle and it is possible that Carver is exploring the many sides of marriage in some of his writing. However the common theme that each story has is the dysfunction that exists for some of the characters in their marriages. Which may be the point that Carver is trying to make. He may be suggesting that marriage as a union between two people has its problems.

  • Can you explain the setting, characterization, the plot (including the conflict and climax), point of view, style, voice, tone, irony, symbol

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Anthony. The setting is a small apartment in an unknown town or city. There are three characters a father, mother and child. The story is about a couple fighting over their child (conflict) and there is no climax that is clear to the reader (either the child is safe, injured or killed). The point of view is third person. The style is tightly written short sentences which heighten the sense of fear in the story. The tone is ominous or threatening. There is a sense of irony in the story in whereby both parents want the child but neither may succeed in getting the child (if the child has been killed). As for symbolism. The snow as mentioned in the post.

  • Those are some great points. Focusing on Popular Mechanics and Cathedral, do you think the narrators ignorant perception of Robert and how it conflicts with his concluding opinion of Robert argues about Carvers nature of marriage?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Apart from Cathedral which has a positive ending I have not come across any other story that Carver has written in whereby there is any sense of togetherness in a marriage/relationship. The couple in Popular Mechanics are fighting (a dynamic in Carver’s fictional marriages) and in Cathedral the narrator has an epiphany and most likely learns to trust (his wife). Marriage is a union between two people. In Popular Mechanics the marriage is falling apart and in Cathedral as mentioned there is a sense of togetherness and trust.

      Marriage is going to be different for everyone though in Carver’s writing there is a lot of dysfunction when it comes to his characters and their marriages/relationships with one another. The marriage in Cathedral has the potential to succeed because the narrator learns to trust his wife through the help of a blind man.

      As for the nature of marriage. Marriage is not only a union between two people but it is a bundle of other things too (love, trust, fidelity, honesty etc) and that is not seen in most of Carver’s stories and most definitely not in Popular Mechanics. In Cathedral there is no trust till the end of the story.

  • What would you say the style of the author was throughout this story and also why weren’t the characters given names?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Michael. Carver uses short sentences throughout the story to heightened the tension. He also uses simple language which is ironic because what is happening in the story isn’t simple. A child may be killed. As to why each character wasn’t given a name it is possible that Carver wanted to make sure that the reader felt as though it could be any couple fighting over their baby. Also by naming each character it would have placed a spotlight on them. Taking the focus away from what was happening in the story. That being the struggle for the baby.

  • Can you please explain the irony in the story in more detail. I would very much appreciate it

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I would think the title of the story is ironic. Popular Mechanics is a ‘how to’ style magazine and the parents in the story don’t know how to have a relationship that does not involve fighting. They are sacrificing their baby for their own gain. Which suggests they are both being selfish and are not really thinking about the baby. A relationship between two people should involve some type of love or togetherness. This is not the case in the story. I also think that it is ironic that both parents want the baby yet neither parent may actually succeed in getting him at the end of the story. It is possible that the baby is being literally torn apart at the end of the story. Resulting in neither parent actually succeeding in getting the baby.

  • Why did the author chose that time and place? What do any and all of these elements contribute to the point the author is making human relationships, and his understanding of the deeper realizations of what life is about.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It is possible that Carver chose the evening as the time because it would be getting dark. Which in many ways mirrors what is happening in the story. A baby may be killed. As for the place, a small apartment. Carver may have deliberately used a small space to suggest that the parent’s live in a small world with no help from others (financial or otherwise). Also Carver may be suggesting that the parents haven’t grown or matured in any way. Carver could also be suggesting that the apartment is too small for three people. Nobody has their own space and for a relationship to succeed each individual in the relationship has to have their own space. As for a deeper realization as to what life is about. It may be a case that Carver is pointing out that some relationships will flounder while some will flourish. However those who will suffer the most when a relationship ends are the children or in the case of the story the baby.

  • When did the man decide to take the child? He took this decision before the beginning of the story, or did he decide to do it when the woman took the picture of the child? Thanks for the answer.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Bogdan. I think that the father decided to take the child prior to the mother taking the picture. I think it was in his mind all along. From the beginning of the story.

  • Hello,
    I am writing an analytical paper about this story. I have learned so much from reading your version of analysis and looking forward to writing a great paper. I just have one question: What should I include in my thesis statement, what is the most important “issue” in this story… The baby? or the conflict itself and not carrying about others.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Mariami. It’s difficult to say. The issue is who will have the baby and the manner the issue is resolved is through conflict. You might be better in sticking with the issue (baby). Though the decision is entirely yours.

      • Thanks for replying! I just wrote the thesis and hope this works ” Raymond Carver in “Popular Mechanics” depicts a popular way of dealing with a conflict between a couple, and the harm that selfishness brings to their offspring, using symbolism, foreshadowing, and situational irony. “

  • What does the baby symbolize?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m not sure. Perhaps security or the future. Both parents obviously don’t have a future together and have an unpleasant present (and possibly past). So maybe the baby represents something better in the future for each parent. It may also be a case that the baby is been used as a tool to hurt the other parent. Both parents want the baby and are not prepared to let the other have the child.

  • What is the conclusion of the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      There’s no simple conclusion in the story as the reader never knows for sure what has happened the baby.

  • I have some questions what are the advantages and disadvantages of third person point of view and are their any alternatives. Also on which character does the weight of the story’s events fall

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Sometimes a third person narrative or point of view can be helpful if it is independent and reliable. Which is the case in the story. Alternatives would be first person, which may not be reliable and second person. As for the character for which the weight of events falls. I would suggest that is the baby.

      • Could you please tell me if the three characters are either protagonists antagonists or other? Also what are some traits, habits, and important actions of the characters

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          I would suggest that the baby is the protagonist. While both parent are antagonists. The most important action of the parents is the fact that they may be killing their child (without knowing it). At no stage in the story do either parent think of the baby. Something which may leave some readers to suggest that both parents are acting selfishly.

  • Could you please tell what the main conflict is and if it is internal or external? Also how does this conflict reinforce larger meanings of the work?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I would suggest there is both an internal and external conflict. The internal conflict would be how the parents feel about the baby. They both want him. The external conflict would be the fighting between parents.

  • How would you describe the authors attitude towards the characters?

  • My comment is more of a question I wanted to know if you could tell me what the stories major strengths and/or weaknesses are.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      One strength of the story is the fact that the reader never really knows what happens at the end of the story. It remains a mystery which makes the reader think more about the story. One weakness I found was that as readers we were given no background information. To allow us to formulate an opinion on each parent.

  • I am working on an essay for school and I need help answering this questions. Does the plot have unity? Are all the episodes relevant to the total meaning or effect of the story? Does each incident grow logically out of the preceding incident and lead naturally to the next? Is the ending happy, unhappy, or intermediate? Is it fairly achieved?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Yes I would think that the story ha a relevant plot structure. Exposition – Two parents arguing and then fighting over their child. Rising Action – the parents moving from the bedroom to the kitchen to continue their fighting. Climax – the actually pulling of the baby’s arm by both parents. Leaving the reader to suspect the baby is either being torn apart or at least his arm is being broken. Falling Action – The harm that is being caused to the baby. Resolution – A little bit unclear here as the reader never knows what happens the baby (physically) but we do know parent’s actions are leading to some type of resolution (pleasant or not).

      Each action leads logically to the next. As for the ending being happy. I don’t think it is. The baby is being hurt.

  • I have a question about what literacy devices are used in the story? thx

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Some literary devices used are foreshadowing. When the mother screams at the father prior to the fighting over the baby. It introduces the conflict between both parents into the story. There is also some situational irony at the end of the story. Both parents want the baby but it looks like neither parent succeeds in getting the child.

  • What would you suggest is the main reason behind not using quotation marks for the Dialogue? I know it is often just a stylistic choice, but is it possible there could be a meaning within the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It’s a good question that unfortunately I don’t know the answer to.

    • I think its cause the narrator is so attached that he is only recalling the story as if he is just speaking and so the whole thing is a big quote but he doesn’t put it. That’s since it is known that the narrator is so detached through showing no emotion which could also hint towards him telling this later on instead of right after it happened since that would make it less sensitive.

  • can u assist, with what is the major irony within the story ?

  • I read the short in ‘When we talk about love’ and noticed right away that, in comparison to the other stories, no quotation marks were used. Can we maybe conclude that this story is a sinister scene that plays in the head of the narrator, following the fact that no one in the story is quoted? Maybe the father in the story is daydreaming about a way, about an accident, that could make him escape the family life he is fed up with.

    You’re not touching this baby, she said.

    In stead of:
    “You’re not touching this baby,” she said.

    I think that the missing of quotation marks signifies that nothing that we read, even in this fictional world, took place.

    What do you think?

  • Hi! I’m working on an oral presentation about Raymond Carver’s Popular Mechanics and I have some doubts. Why this short story is considered postmodern? Which postmodern techniques had he used in this story? I’ll be grateful if you help me with these questions.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m really sorry Florence but I don’t think I can answer your question. I have a terribly simple notion as to what postmodernism is, late 20th century. On that grounds the story would qualify but it isn’t sufficient for your needs.

  • Hi I am writing an analysis on this story and have a question! How is tone and symbolism used throughout the story and what are some examples of this? Also how do you tell what your going to do when writing a paper like this? How would I Exactly analyze these thingsThank you so much !

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Tone is used by both parents actions. They are angry and aggressive towards each other (and the baby). With regard to symbolism. I deal with some symbolism and its effect in the second paragraph of the post.

      When analyzing a story I look for the obvious first, maybe a theme, then I try to figure out if I can find any symbolism in the story. I also try to do an analysis in a linear fashion. From the start of the story to the end.

  • What would the life lesson be in this story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      That parents can forget what is important in life (children) and forget about their own selfish needs.

  • how you think the story should have closed-ending to Popular Mechanics.

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