The Father by Raymond Carver
In The Father by Raymond Carver we have the theme of connection, letting go, alienation and identity. Taken from his Will You Please Be Quiet, Please collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and in many ways Carver begins and ends the story (through the use of the colour white) with a blank canvas. This may be significant as it suggests that despite the best efforts of the characters in the story, to give an identity to the baby, it would appear that none really succeed, though the grandmother does appear to be the only character in the story who manages in some way to identify the baby with someone else, her husband. This identification with the baby’s grandfather (who is deceased) may be important as it can also suggest that the grandmother is attempting to make a connection, through her grandson, to her husband. It is possible that the grandmother still misses her husband and sees her grandson as a link to the past, a past that she may still long for.
There are several instances in the story which suggest the difficulty in making a connection with others. There is the fact that the father remains seated in another room, with his back to his family. This may be significant as it can suggest the idea of alienation, that in some ways the father is not connected to his family. It is also significant that at the end of the story, Carver writes of the father turning ‘around in his chair and his face was white and without expression.’ This is important as again it may possibly highlight to the reader the difficulties in formulating or giving an identity to someone. By using the colour white to describe the father at the end of the story Carver in some ways makes it difficult for not only the children but for the reader too, to give an identity to the baby and the father. It may also be important that Phyllis tells her sister, Carol, that ‘All babies have pretty eyes.’ Again this can suggest not only the difficulty in giving an identity to the baby but also the difficulty in attempting to make a connection between the baby and the rest of the family.
How difficult it can be for a person to give an identity to another individual can also be seen when Carol suggests the baby looks like her father and Phyllis asks ‘Who does Daddy look like?’ This may be significant as it is at this stage that the reader becomes aware that the children do not have any reference point (like their father’s own father or mother) to help them work out who their father may look like. Throughout the story the only person who appears to be satisfied with who the baby looks like is the grandmother, and again it may be possible that she is longing to see a reflection of her husband in the baby. Such is the grandmother’s longing to make a connection between the baby and her husband the reader senses that she is unable to let go or accept the fact that her husband is no longer alive.
The mother’s role in the story is also interesting, despite her mother’s (grandmother) assurances that the child looks like the mother’s father it would appear that the main concern for the mother is that her baby is healthy. Though Carver does not suggest or make reference to any difficulties that may have been incurred during pregnancy, some critics suggest that the mother’s ascertain that the baby is healthy suggests that her pregnancy may have had its difficulties, difficulties that mirror the problems the baby’s sisters are having with trying to figure out who their brother looks like.
The end of the story is also interesting. All the characters, with the exception of the grandmother, look towards the kitchen at the father. The fact that the grandmother remains focused on her grandchild may be significant as it again not only suggests her inability to let go of the past but also her wish to see a connection between the baby and her husband. Of all the characters in the story, the grandmother appears to be the most certain about who the baby looks like.
It is also interesting that despite the fact that the father appears to have no involvement with his children throughout the story (he remains in another room), the reader assumes, from the opening line, that it is the father who has repainted the babies cot from pink to blue. This may be significant as it suggests that the father, though the children find it hard to figure out who he looks like, remains linked to his son, even if none of the other characters can see this link. It may also be significant that the baby who is described as ‘it’ in the opening passage of the story is then described as ‘he’ by the end. This may be Carver highlighting, that though it is difficult for the children to give an identity to the baby, they do manage in some ways to successfully give him some type of identity, however giving their father an identity remains elusive.