Preservation by Raymond Carver

In Preservation by Raymond Carver we have the theme of change, fear, helplessness and paralysis. Taken from his Cathedral collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after first reading the story the reader realises that Carver is using a lot of symbolism. The book that Sandy is reading is significant. It’s called Mysteries of the Past and the reader learns that despite trying to read it, Sandy’s husband has made very little progress in finishing the book. This is significant as it mirrors his progress throughout the story. He does very little at the beginning of the story, spending most of his time lying on the sofa. Again this is important as it suggests a sense of paralysis within Sandy’s husband. The book is also important for a second reason. Sandy reads an article about a prehistoric man, whose body had been frozen and preserved. Symbolically the reader notices the similarities between the prehistoric man and Sandy’s husband. He too appears to be frozen in some way. Every morning when he wakes up, he puts on the same clothes (work clothes), the reader sensing not only a paralysis within Sandy’s husband but also a lack of change.

There is also a sense of helplessness in the story. It would appear by his lack of actions that Sandy’s husband has given up on ever finding a job. Despite reading the newspaper every day, when he is going through the paper with Sandy, to try and find a new fridge, he quickly skips over the job advertisements. It is possible that Sandy’s husband has lost his drive. He also appears to be unable to adapt, his only qualification being, his ability to lay roofs. It is also important that the reader understands that through her husband’s actions (or lack of them), Sandy too feels helpless, she doesn’t know what to do and discusses her circumstances with a friend in work.

The story that Sandy’s friend tells her in work about her uncle is also significant, as it is through the telling of the story that the reader realises that Sandy is afraid for the future. It is also possible that Sandy’s husband just like her friend’s uncle is also having a mental collapse of sorts. Triggered by the fact that he has lost his job and possibly his purpose in life. The possibility that Sandy is not only helplessness but under immense pressure is noticeable when Sandy’s husband says to her ‘Tell me what’s next?’ when the fridge breakdown. Though Sandy remains silent the reader is aware that a ‘bunch of things suddenly flew into her head but she didn’t say anything.’ This is significant as it suggests that Sandy’s life is beginning to spiral out of control, due to her husband’s job loss and lack of mobility

There are also several foreshadowing devices being used by Carver to suggest that Sandy’s husband’s life is about to get back on course. Carver uses the symbolism of the thawing food in the fridge and then on the table to suggest that Sandy’s husband is moving from a state of paralysis to a state of action. It is also significant that Sandy’s husband at the beginning of the story tells Sandy when he loses his job, that he has been ‘canned’. Can’s would be used to preserve foodstuff and in many ways, until the fridge breaks down, Sandy’s husband has also being preserved.

The fridge breaking down is important as in some ways it act as the impetus for change. It is when the fridge breaks down that the reader notices the first significant movement by Sandy’s husband. He gets up off the sofa to check what is wrong with the fridge. There is also other action which occurs. He sits down and goes through the classifieds. This is significant as it is a progressive action. It highlights the fact that Sandy’s husband is making an effort to fix the situation. In many ways it mirrors his job of fixing roofs. The reader sensing that Sandy’s husband has a purpose again.

Sandy recalling her father’s death may also be significant. He bought his car at an action, just as Sandy is about to buy her fridge. The car leaked carbon monoxide which resulted in her father’s death and in some way’s Carver may be suggesting the idea of fear again. That Sandy is apprehensive about buying something at an auction. However is it also possible that Carver could also be suggesting that people, like things, breakdown and how you go about pulling through the difficulties is the thing that is important.

Whichever way the reader looks at it, the auction must be seen in a positive light. Despite at first showing an unwillingness to go, Sandy’s husband changes his mind. This is a positive step forward, mirroring the positive movements that Sandy’s husband showed when he started going through the newspaper to find a replacement fridge. The fact that he stands with water around his feet at the end of the story, suggests that like the food, he too is thawing no longer frozen by the fact that he is unemployed.

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


  • This one definitely makes me think and look at it from different angles, exactly what I want and expect from Carver.

    The fundaments of the relationship in the story are definitely under some stress. This atmosphere of paralysis and disillusion is set up brilliantly, many symbolic elements get me puzzled and signify a development change in the protagonists. Look upon by a narrator in third person this makes an interesting and puzzling relationship study. Kept me thinking afterwards about it – and about my own – for quite a while.

    Good analysis once more.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Tom. There really are a lot of ways to look at this story. Which I think makes it one of Carver’s better stories.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Tom. There really are a lot of ways to look at this story. Which I think makes it one of Carver’s better stories.

  • It’s funny. I interpret this story and its symbolism differently. Perhaps this reflects more on the reader than the author. I see Sandy’s relationship with her husband as preserved in a state of stagnation caused by lack of change. When the change occurs and he loses his job, I feel this will lead to a disintegration of their relationship and the rotting of the food and the leaking of Freon represents this. Just a different way of considering the symbolism I guess. When she feels that things will never be the same again, I think she understands that she loved the stability the marriage brought about rather than the man himself, and this is reinforced by the fact the husband is never referred to by name.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Chris. Your interpretation makes perfect sense and I have to admit it is somewhat better than my own effort at interpreting the story. This is one particular story that I feel I have never fully got to grips with and your analysis actually helps me to understand the story better.

  • „There’s a good chance I’ll post something by Yates in the near future.“

    I think so far you didn’t? In many ways, it would seem fitting to add Yates to your Carver discussions.

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