The Bridle by Raymond Carver
In The Bridle by Raymond Carver we have the theme of paralysis, escape, control and isolation. Taken from his Cathedral collection the story is narrated in the first person by a middle aged woman called Marge and it is interesting that though the reader learns a lot about the other characters in the story, through Marge’s dialogue, it is by what Marge omits that the reader gets a sense about how isolated she is. Marge makes no mention of family, apart from Harley. Also she never appears to leave the apartment complex, spending most of her time looking out the window at the guests who live there. This may be significant as it suggests that Marge is isolated from other people. In some ways the reader also senses that Marge longs to be connected with other people. This is noticeable when she is doing Betty’s nails. There is a sense that by offering Betty a free manicure, Marge is doing so, so that Betty will continue talking about her life. This may suggest that Marge longs to know more about others, not out of being nosy but because she finds her own life too mundane and she longs to escape.
The sense that Marge would like to escape is also noticeable when she is counting the money that Holits has given her for his rent. She imagines where the fifty dollar bills could end up. She thinks about Las Vegas, Waikiki Beach, New York and Miami. All these locations are far away from the small apartment complex that Marge finds herself in. It is through this longing to escape that the reader realises the Marge is in some way paralysed or trapped. It is also interesting that when Harley is mowing the front lawn of the apartment complex that Marge imagines him ‘behind a plow instead of behind his Black and Decker power mower.’ This may be significant as it may also suggest the idea of escape, by imagining Harley behind a plow, Marge is associating him with a different type of life.
There are further examples in the story which suggest the sense of paralysis. Spuds appears to still be obsessed with his first wife, Evelyn. This is noticeable through the many slides he shows Marge and Harley when they visit him and his second wife, Linda for dinner. It is as if he has difficulty letting go of her which in turn suggests a sense of being stuck in the past or of being paralysed. Similarly with Linda, she mentions Evelyn’s name several times while looking at the slides, this may suggest that she too is unable to let go of the past and in some way may also be paralysed.
It may also be significant that Harley, spends the majority of his time in the story sitting down. If he is not sitting on the mower, mowing the grass, he is sitting in his chair looking at the TV. This can also suggest paralysis. Also when Harley and Marge are at Connie Nova’s housewarming, Harley is sitting down near the door, away from people. This positioning may be important as it suggests an isolation from others. The reader is also aware that at no stage in the story does Harley engage with anybody at the complex. Again Carver may be suggesting the idea of isolation. It may also be significant that Marge witnesses Holits’ accident while looking out the window at Holits and the other residents drinking by the pool. Again this can suggest that Marge is isolated from others.
There are also some incidents in the story which suggest the idea of control. There is the fact that Marge doesn’t allow anybody around the pool area after ten o’clock. Though she exerts her authority on this after Holits has his accident, it appears she does so more as an afterthought. Also when Marge mentions that the Holits’ would like a refund, Harley refuses to give them one. In some ways he is also exerting his authority. The reader has to remember that Harley and Marge are only employees of the apartment complex, it would be no loss to them to refund the Holits’.
The ending of the story is also significant. Marge after she has checked the condition of the Holits’ apartment is grateful that it has been kept in good condition by Betty. She thanks her out loud and wishes her good luck. This may be important as Marge had the opportunity to personally say goodbye to Betty but she didn’t. This could again suggests the idea that Marge is isolated from others. The fact that Marge also finds the bridle in the room may also be important. Symbolically Carver could be suggesting that Marge herself is being controlled, she is after all just an employee of Fulton Terrace, Inc and she appears to live her life based solely on her job as caretaker of the complex. Unlike the Holits’ who have moved on the reader doesn’t suspect that Marge or Harley will every move on. In many ways they remain stuck at the apartment complex.