Sixty Acres by Raymond Carver
In 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.