Tell the Women We’re Going by Raymond Carver

Tell the Women We're Going - Raymond CarverIn Tell the Women We’re Going by Raymond Carver we have the theme of friendship, separation, change and violence. Taken from his What We Talk About When We Talk About Love collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and begins with the reader being introduced to the two main protagonists, Bill Jamison and Jerry Roberts. Both men have known each other since they were children and went to school and college together. How close both Bill and Jerry were growing up can be seen by the fact that they shared everything (including girlfriends). Despite this closeness, when Jerry leaves college early and marries Carol there is sense of separation between the two men and it is only when Bill finds himself a girlfriend and eventual wife (Linda) that the close bond between both men returns. However even when Bill marries Linda there is still a sense of change, particularly in Jerry. This is noticed by Bill at his wedding to Linda. ‘Bill looked at Jerry and thought how much older Jerry looked, a lot older than twenty-two.’

The role marriage plays in the story is important. When Jerry first started living with Carol, Bill felt out of place looking at Jerry and Carol kissing (and doing more). It was only when he too got married (to Linda) that Bill started to feel close to Jerry again. This possibly suggests a return to equality in the friendship, both are the same now that they have both gotten married. However when Carol starts to have children, Bill notices a difference in Jerry, the narrator telling the reader that ‘Bill was thinking how Jerry was getting to be deep, the way he stared all the time and hardly did any talking at all.’ This sentence is important as it is a clear sign to the reader that Jerry has become introverted and possibly moody. Though neither Bill nor the narrator say it, it is clear that family life has changed Jerry.

It is also while Bill and Jerry are at the Rec Center that the reader suspects that Jerry is trying to relive his past, a time when he was more carefree. An example of this is when Jerry, while playing pool, tells Riley ‘What kind of place is this, Riley, that it don’t have any girls on a Sunday afternoon? It is also at the Rec Center that the reader is given a little insight into the possible violent capabilities of Jerry. First there is the incident when he punches (playfully) Bill in the stomach when Bill is opening the door. Also Jerry mashes his beer cans twice. This is not the first occasion that the narrator gives some insight into the violent capabilities of Jerry. Early in the story (on the first page) we learn that both Bill and Jerry liked to ‘bang’ the same girls when they were growing up. The narrator’s use of the word ‘bang’ is important as in many ways it acts as foreshadowing to what will happen at the end of the story.

Jerry’s language usage just like the narrators is also important. He calls the two women on the bicycles ‘bitches’, ‘cunts’ and ‘cockteasers.’ This is important because it highlights again to the reader the possibility that Jerry may have a violent nature. Despite the use of language to foreshadow what happens in the story, the reader never really expects Jerry to actually kill anybody. It is the narrator’s omissions that in some ways make the story even more shocking. What is also important about the narrator is the fact that they are not omniscient, if anything they are telling the story through Bill’s eyes.

What is clear to the reader though is the fact that Jerry is not happy in his marriage. We are already aware that he has become introverted and moody but we also learn that he feels trapped. We become aware of this in the Rec Center when Jerry tells Bill ‘Guy’s got to get out.’ Though it is just one sentence it is clear that Jerry does not like or want the responsibility that comes with marriage. In essence he longs for a return to his single life, when he was carefree and under no obligation to anyone.

Though the narrator never clarifies Jerry’s motives for killing the two girls, there are several ways to look at the ending of the story. One is that Jerry killed both girls because they refused his sexual advances, which in turn led Jerry to feel inadequate or rejected. Another possible scenario is that Jerry killed both girls because of what they represented to him. To Jerry the female symbolizes being trapped, just like he feels trapped in his marriage to Carol. Women in Jerry’s eyes are responsible for how his life has turned out. Whatever Jerry’s motives are what is clear at the end of the story is the fact that he has gone too far.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Tell the Women We're Going by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.

8 comments

  • Killing Barb (I didn’t read anywhere -at least at the edition I am reading, “Beginners”- killing the second girl) maybe means Jerry is taking revenge on life that treated him “that way”. All the pressure from his wedding his 4 children while his wife “expecting a fifth” all his wrong moves and the result of him being unhappy (even moody) all these are on the face of this poor girl: so raping her is not enough- he has to smash her face with a rock….

    He is fighting himself, the life he made, life itself…

    So far it is the most shocking Carver’s story I read, finale is a real punch on the face.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment George. You’re flying through each story. I hope you’re enjoying them. It is one of Carver’s more shocking stories and Jerry does appear to be taking how he feels about his life out on the two girls.

  • Yes, Carver is a master of writing and the book I am reading (a revised collection of all of his short stories) is a masterpiece! (Well…his body of work is a masterpiece). Congratulations once again for your analysis and sharp point of view, every time I finish a story I am thinking about it and visit Sitting Bee to see your analysis!

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks George. Carver is a very special writer. I’ve four or five of his collections which I haven’t fully read yet. Though I keep meaning to return to his writing.

  • The very last paragraph proves he killed both girls by using the same rock on both of them. Right?

    I love your analysis on these short stories Dermot. Thanks

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Hi Tom. You’re right. Jerry did use the same rock on both girls. That’s what it says in my copy of the story (Vintage 2009).

  • There are 2 different versions of this story. With 2 different endings. The manuscript version that appears in “beginners” describes the rape, and slow murder of the girl Jerry chased. Bill only starts looking for Jerry when he sees the other girl return and start waiting for her friend.

    This is an excellent analysis, and I would love to hear your thoughts on the other ending.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Ilya. I just briefly read the end of the Beginner’s version of the story and the sense I got is that though Jerry is guilty of raping the girl there is a sense that he wished he hadn’t. As if he already knows what he is doing is wrong. Taking his pain out on the the girl. I also got a sense that Bill is acutely aware that his friendship with Jerry is now over as well with Bill being in disbelief about what has happened the girls.

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