Sixty Acres by Raymond Carver

Sixty Acres - Raymond CarverIn Sixty Acres by Raymond Carver we have the theme of  tradition, doubt and conflict. Taken from his Will You Please Be Quiet, Please collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and begins with the main protagonist, Lee Waite, receiving a phone call from his friend and fellow American Indian, Joseph Eagle. Joseph is ringing Lee to tell him that there are people poaching on Lee’s land. Both Lee and Joseph are living on the Yakama Nation’s Reservation in the Yakima Valley and through Joseph’s phone call Carver highlights for the reader the conflict that Lee feels towards his land. After Joseph calls Lee the reader learns that Lee would prefer if ‘the old Indian would let him be about that land.’ Not only does this line highlight a sense of conflict that Lee feels towards the land (a sense of being attached but not wanting to be) but Carver’s use of the words ‘old Indian’ may also be significant as it not only suggests that Joseph is old or elderly but more importantly it highlights the fact that Joseph still cares about the land and is continuing with tradition (something the reader later discovers Lee is not interested in).

Carver further highlights or explores the theme of tradition when Lee, after arriving on his land, parks behind the poachers grey sedan. It is at this point that Lee starts to remember when he used to come down to the land and trap muskrat with his father and two brothers. Carver mentioning Lee’s two brothers is significant as the reader discovers that both Lee’s brothers were killed when he was young. This is important because it not only suggests that tradition has not being continued but that it is unlikely to be continued as there is no one left apart from Lee to carry on tradition and already the reader suspects that he is indifferent towards the land. It had originally been Lee’s father’s intention to leave his land to his three sons (thus ensuring the continuation of tradition) but after his brothers’ death, Lee inherited all the land.

What is also interesting while Lee is waiting for the poachers is the fact that he hasn’t been down to that particular part of his land in four or five years. This is significant because it again highlights Lee’s indifference when it comes to the land. There is also a sense of irony when Lee is waiting to catch the poachers. Ironic because as the reader is aware Lee’s name is Waite and that is exactly what he is doing, waiting to catch the poachers. When he does catch the poachers Lee lets them go, as he is already aware that there is very little he can do with them. However when Lee is driving back home he ‘could not understand why he felt something crucial had happened, a failure.’ This line may be important as it suggests an internal conflict within Lee. Part of him knows that he should protect the land yet he displays an outward indifference towards it. Lee may also feel that he has been a coward, having being nervous when he found the poachers on his land.

Lee also feels a sense of relief when he returns home, relief because he is glad that his sons are asleep as they would have been disappointed to hear that he has let the poachers go. It is also while Lee is at home that the idea or theme of tradition is further explored. Lee notices ‘the brown mesh of a gill net wrapped around the prongs of a salmon spear’ which is sticking out from a shelf. Though this appears to be insignificant it may be important as it again highlights the idea of tradition (spear used for fishing). It may also be significant that the spear is gathering dust on the shelf. This may highlight that Lee is not using the spear to fish on his land, which in turn suggests that he is not continuing with tradition.

Carver ends Sixty Acres with a frustrated Lee telling his wife that he is thinking about leasing his land to some of the hunting clubs. This decision is important as it suggests again an abandonment or loss of tradition. By giving up the land, Lee no longer will carry on the traditions of his father and though Lee reassures Nina that he would still own the land, the reader senses that Lee knows leasing the land is not the right decision. Carver telling the reader that as Lee slid against the wall, the floor ‘seemed to slant in his direction; it seemed to move.’ Despite his lack of interest in the land, Lee still has his doubts, he remains as he did at the beginning of the story, attached to the land, though not wanting to be.

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


  • Can u explain more about the tradition that u mentioned in your post? And do u think there are some core ideas that appear in most of his short stories in this Will you please be quiet, please?

    Thank you for all

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Quoc. Land would be important to the Native American Indians and Lee has no real interest in the land he owns. So in many ways he is not following tradition. If anything Lee wants to get rid of the land or at least lease it out. Also the fishing spear in Lee’s home is gathering dust which suggests the tradition of fishing by spear by Lee’s father and brother’s is not being followed on by Lee.

      A lot of stories in the collection deal with struggle. The individuals in the stories encounter problems while living their life. That struggle would be at the core of most of the stories. Characters in conflict.

  • I think the discussion of the details of leasing the land is important. Lee owns the land and the lease is temporary, always returns to the natural owner. Life itself is like a lease, you temporarily occupy a body, the spirit returning to where it came from after death. Lee is uncomfortable identifying with his very own body as an eternal idea. When Lee is getting light headed or dizzy he confronts his mortality and takes solace with deep knowledge that this one life here and now is temporary and his spirit will eventually move on, like a lease. It’s like an early Bob Dylan lyric, “what will mama say? Will it be all right?”. Yea its all right ma, I’m only bleeding (leasing).

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for that excellent insight Brian. I’m re-imagining the story in a totally different light.

  • Could you pls share your thoughts about Lee’s mother? She hardly speaks or moves, but follows his every movement with her eyes. I sensed Lee felt uncomfortable (guilty?) around her. Do you think her behaviour is a result of old age and grief, or there’s a hidden meaning? Thanks!

  • Hi,
    Interesting analysis of the story. I found it curious we are left with the image of Lee cupping his hands to his ears as if to listen for someone to tell him what to do about his dilemma.

  • One more thing I found ironic is that he, Waite may have possession of a vast land but his house is small and there is no place to go for him as it was mentioned at the last. And how much they got excited about a thousand dollars, I don’t why this is so significant as it was mentioned twice or thrice. Please let me know.

    One more thing I found hidden underneath is that Waite regrets for not killing the poachers and he felt bad thinking about his children knowing that he let them go. I think he may have killed someone before and is guilty now that lead to his detachment from the land.

    And his mother threatened me all the time. She only speaks one time and remained silent and then asleep.

    The dog also found to be something important in this story.

    Please throw light on his mother and the dog, and what they meant.

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