The Ducks by Raymond Carver
In The Ducks by Raymond Carver we have the theme of connection, mortality, detachment, doubt, fear 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 from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Carver is using the landscape and the flight of the ducks (black explosion) to set the mood for the story. Another interesting thing about the opening passage of the story is that Carver is also using symbolism (and foreshadowing) to suggest to the reader the idea of detachment. The main protagonist, an unnamed man is chopping (or splitting) wood. This is significant as it suggests a separation or detachment, Carver mirroring the splitting of the wood to the sense of detachment that the main protagonist feels when he reflects on his own life.
Carver uses symbolism again in the opening passages of the story to further suggest the idea of detachment (from self) and which also serves as another foreshadowing device. There is the blanket that has fallen from the clothes line. Again this is significant as it is not only separated from the other blankets on the clothes line but it is also detached from the clothes line. This mirrors again how the main protagonist feels later in the story when the reader suspects that he is questioning his own mortality. While there is a sense of detachment (from self) in the story there are also several signs that highlight to the reader the idea of connection. There are the physical actions of the main protagonist’s wife. On several occasion she touches him affectionately and when he leaves for work, she asks him to kiss her. There is also the fact that they share the beer together, Carver using alcohol as a symbol of connection (or something in common) between the main protagonist and his wife.
Carver’s inclusion of Jack Granger’s death in the story acts as a trigger for the main protagonist to reflect on his own mortality. There is also one obvious example of Carver using symbolism in the story to project to the reader the idea of life or its meaning. The main protagonist is reading the biographies (life stories) at the back of one of his wife’s mail club books. Also the main protagonist’s wife is menstruating, which again Carver could be using as symbolism for life’s cycle. It is also interesting that when the main protagonist is making love to his wife there is a maternal feeling to their love-making (noticeable through the wife’s actions). This is important as Carver may be associating the maternal with the idea of life or living.
There is further symbolism to suggest that the main protagonist is reflecting on his life (or reassessing his own mortality). As he is looking out the window he sees his wife’s reflection and tells her to go ahead and have her bath. It is through the reflection that the reader gets the sense that the main protagonist is starting to view his wife or his relationship with her differently. The sense that the main protagonist is reflecting on his life is again further suggested while he is in bed with his wife. He first thinks about how much her loves his wife and then starts to think does he really love her at all. This not only suggests both connection and detachment but also suggests the idea of doubt or conflict within the main protagonist.
It is also while he is in bed that the main protagonist decides that he will start to live a fuller life. He wants to reconnect with his family and suggests to his wife that they should move back to his home town. He also thinks about moving to Oregon. This further uncertainty about where he should live is also significant as it again suggests confusion or conflict (internal) within the main protagonist. He knows he wants to move, but is unsure of which direction to take
The end of the story is also interesting because it further highlights not only the idea of fear but that of doubt too. After he has looked out the window the main protagonist gets back into bed. He thinks that he has heard something outside in the dark. Though he tries to wake his wife, she remains sleeping. The fact that his wife remains sleeping may be important as it could suggest that at the end of the story, the main protagonist is left with his own fears and doubts as he sits staring out into the darkness. There is also a suspicion that things will remain uncertain for the main protagonist (again the idea of doubt), but what is certain is that his fears and doubts (about life and its meaning) have been triggered by the death of Jack Granger.