Sacks by Raymond Carver
In Sacks by Raymond Carver we have the theme of infidelity, conflict, regret, separation, acceptance, moving on and letting go. Taken from his What We Talk About When We Talk About Love collection the story is narrated in the first person by a man called Les Palmer and very early on the reader realises that Carver may be exploring one of the main themes of the story, the theme of separation. Les hasn’t seen his father since his parents divorced three years previously. It is also while Les is talking to his father in the airport lounge that the reader realises that Les’ father hasn’t let go of either his ex-wife or Sally Wain. In essence he hasn’t moved on or separated himself from either woman (at least not mentally). What is also interesting is that Les’ father is unable to accept that his life now appears to be without any sort of direction. If anything Les’ father appears to be living his life in conflict.
Carver further explores the theme of acceptance while Les is listening to his father telling him about Sally Wain, Les tells his father that ‘Anybody can make a mistake.’ This is significant because it highlights to the reader that Les is no longer carrying any animosity (not openly at least) towards his father. He appears to have accepted his father’s actions, though it is also significant that he addresses Sally as ‘that woman’. Les might have accepted his father‘s actions, but may not necessarily approve of them. The theme of regret is a little more difficult to appraise in the story as the reader is unsure as to whether Les’ father regrets that he had the affair, or he regrets that Sally is no longer with him. Either way it does seem that Les’ father is unable to move on or let go of his past. His actions in the past still appear to haunt him.
The setting for the story is also interesting. The fact that Les and his father meet, not at his father’s home but rather in the airport lounge suggests a transience. This shortness or briefness in time also mirrors Les’ father’s time with Sally. The reader aware that the affair was cut short by Larry’s arrival back home. It may also be possible that Les prefers to see his father at the airport, rather than in his father’s home. Though he may have accepted his father’s actions (and does not display any open animosity towards his father) he may remain uncomfortable with being close to him. Another interesting thing worth noting about the story is the conversation that Sally and Les’ father have about the bank robbery. Les’ father had told Sally that ‘They got away clean.’ This may be important as Carver may be using irony to highlight to the reader the fact that unlike the bank robbers, Les’ father has never been able to escape from his actions and his affair with Sally. If anything he seems disoriented in life, possibly due to the fact that he may feel guilty about the affair or because it cost him his marriage to Les’ mother. Though the reader never knows for sure how Les’ father feels.
There is also further irony in the story. Les’ father tells him that Larry ‘…went all to pieces.’ This is ironic because the reader is aware that if anyone has gone to pieces (or been unable to move on) it is Les’ father. He still struggles with his previous actions (the affair with Sally). Carver explores irony again when after Les hears that his father had jumped out the picture window to avoid Larry, Les says to his father ‘’You got away.’ Again this is ironic because though Les’ father may have physically escaped from Larry, he has never escaped mentally from his affair with Sally. As the reader is aware his actions led to his divorce (separation) from Les’ mother. Carver also uses symbolism in the story to further suggest irony. Les notices that his father is wearing glasses. He has never seen his father wear them before. This is ironic because glasses as the reader would be aware are used to help a person not only see but to see clearer. Despite his glasses, Les’ father is no nearer understanding his actions and why he might have had an affair with Sally Wain.
Carver also uses symbolism at the end of the story to highlight to the reader the idea of moving on (for Les). Les forgets to take the sack of gifts that his father has given him for Mary. This may be important as the gifts from Les’ father are all that connects him to Les and Les’ family. The fact that Les forgets to take the gifts with him suggests that likewise Les has forgotten his father. Something that the reader realises when we discover that Les hasn’t seen his father since meeting him in the airport. Through the passing of time it would appear that Les not only accepts his father’s actions but is also sure that he does not need him in his wife or kid’s lives. By telling the reader (after he remembers that he has forgotten his father’s gifts) that Mary ‘didn’t need candy’ and that she ‘needs it even less now,’ there is a sense that Les has not only moved on but that he has also let go.