Signals by Raymond Carver
In Signals by Raymond Carver we have the theme of appearance, jealousy, conflict and separation. Taken from his Will You Please Be Quiet, Please collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and it is after reading the story that the reader realises that Carver may be using the setting of the story (Aldo’s restaurant) to explore the theme of appearance. Aldo’s is an upmarket (or sophisticated) restaurant, with a sense of the exotic (the bird aviary). Wayne seems to be impressed with not only the restaurant but with Aldo himself. The fact that Aldo may have an Uncle in the Vatican and that some of the painting on the wall of the restaurant may have come from the Vatican also impresses Wayne. Wayne also notices that Aldo is wearing a three hundred-dollar suit. Again Wayne appears to be impressed by this. If anything Wayne appears to be impressed by material possessions (or what money can buy), while the reader suspects that Caroline seems to be more impressed by who Aldo knows.
How important money is to Wayne can be seen on two separate occasions in the story. First he buys a cheap, domestic bottle of champagne and at the end of the evening he leaves only a dollar tip for the waiter. It is through these actions and subsequently, through Caroline’s actions that the reader also realises how distant (or different) Wayne and Caroline are from each other, which in turn separates them further from each other. When it comes to the champagne, Caroline suggests they should have went for a bottle of Lancer’s (dearer bottle) and when Caroline sees Wayne’s dollar tip, she adds a further two dollars to it. There is also a sense that Wayne is out of his depth while he is in Aldo’s. One obvious example of Wayne being out of his depth or comfort zone, which in turn may cause conflict (internal) within Wayne, is the fact that he can’t understand or read the menu (its in French). The menu is also important for another reason, it in some ways separates Caroline from Wayne. She seems to fully understand the menu, even highlighting some of the French dishes to Wayne, which she suggests he should try. It is also possible that Carver is using the menu as a foreshadowing device to symbolise the eventual (or continued) separation of Caroline and Wayne
There is also one obvious example in the story, of conflict. There is the fact that Wayne and Caroline are arguing while they are having dinner. Ironically it should be a happy occasion (Caroline’s 37th birthday) but it is far from it. Both Caroline and Wayne spend the entire time, while eating, arguing with each other. There also appears to be no resolution in their arguing, which further suggests an eventual (or continued) separation for Wayne and Caroline. The idea or theme of jealousy (in Wayne) is also explored in the story. There is the fact that Aldo has seated Wayne and Caroline in the centre of the restaurant. This displeases Wayne (internal conflict again) and in some ways the reader suspects that Wayne is jealous of the other diners in the restaurant. Also after Wayne has purchased the cheap bottle of champagne he tells Caroline that he isn’t ‘like the group you’ve been keeping company with lately.’ Despite Wayne admitting to Caroline (just before this statement) that he is ‘lowbrow,’ the reader senses that Wayne in reality is jealous of Caroline’s friends. The fact that Caroline is mixing in other circles, without Wayne, also suggests that they are already living separate lives. There is also a possibility that Wayne and Caroline will not reconcile (and remain separated). After they have had dinner, though Wayne says ‘Let’s have coffee and dessert,’ Caroline decides against dessert. This may be important as by deciding not to have dessert, Caroline may have also decided that she no longer wishes to be with or in Wayne’s company.
The ending of the story is also interesting as it further highlights the idea of continued separation. After Caroline has put the two dollars on the table as a tip for the waiter, she ends up talking to Aldo on her way out of the restaurant. When Aldo asks her will she be coming back she tells him ‘I shall. As often as I may.’ This line may be important as it is through Caroline’s omission of the word ‘we’, referring to both her and Wayne that the reader senses that though Caroline will return to the restaurant, it will not be with Wayne. Carver also at the end of the story further explores the theme of jealousy. When Wayne sees Aldo kiss Caroline’s hand, it appears to trigger some jealousy in him. This is noticeable when Caroline and Wayne are just about to leave the restaurant. Caroline tells Wayne ‘You can see how he could be friends with Lana Turner.’ Wayne replies by saying ‘I don’t think he ever knew her.’ No longer is Wayne impressed by Aldo, rather he now appears to be jealous of him.