The Lie by Raymond Carver

In The Lie by Raymond Carver we have the theme of conflict, confusion, uncertainty, honesty, trust and control. Taken from his Fires collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed male narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Carver may be exploring the theme of conflict. There is a sense that the narrator doesn’t know whether or not to believe his wife. Which in turn is causing an internal conflict for narrator. He is uncertain as to whether or not to believe what his wife is telling him or what their friend has said. It is also difficult for the reader to make a judgement for themselves (before the wife admits the truth) because Carver gives no background information nor is the reader made aware of what the friend has said. This may be deliberate as it is possible that by leaving the reader in the dark about what the friend has said Carver is attempting to mirror the confusion that the narrator feels. Carver may be placing an emphasis on any doubts the narrator has about the validity of the friend’s remarks and what his wife is saying. Just as the narrator is uncertain of what the truth is so too is the reader.

Carver also appears to be exploring the theme of trust and honesty. By calling the story The Lie immediately the reader suspects that there are trust issues between the narrator and his wife. Something that becomes clearer to the reader when the narrator’s wife admits that she has been lying. Though again we are unsure as to what she may have been lying about. Though by admitting she has lied Carver manages to not only place a spot light on the narrator’s ability to trust his wife. But we are also aware that the narrator’s wife, by lying, has been dishonest. It is through this dishonesty that Carver explores the narrator’s relationship with his wife. It may also be important that for part of the story there is some distance between the narrator and his wife. He is standing by the window while she is sitting on the sofa. Though they are both in the same room, they are not necessarily close to each other. Which may be the point that Carver is attempting to make. The narrator may feel that he no longer knows his wife because of what the friend has said.

It is also interesting that the narrator’s wife at all stages of the story remains in control despite being the guilty party (having lied). She takes centre stage throughout the story. Not only physically, by sitting on the sofa, but also at no stage after she admits that she has lied does she move from the sofa. This could be important as her lack of movement from the sofa suggests she will not change. She will remain the same. Which suggests that she may lie again to the narrator knowing that he will remain in the relationship with her regardless. If anything the narrator’s wife has absolute power or control over the narrator. Something that becomes clearer at the end of the story when the narrator’s wife begins to undress.

There may also be some symbolism in the story which may be important. By having the narrator stand by the window and see his wife’s reflection Carver may be suggesting that the narrator remains fixed or focused on what is happening in the room. If anything he remains focused on his wife and asking why she may have lied to him. Though it is also noticeable that rather than really push his wife for an explanation he half-heartedly does so. The fact that Carver also introduces a biography of Tolstoy into the story may also be important as a biography would be a person’s life story. However the narrator never seems to know his wife’s story. Whether or not she is telling the truth. Not till she admits that she has lied. Unlike a biography in whereby the reader gets an insight into an individual’s life. The narrator (and reader) never really get an insight in the life of the narrator’s wife. What her actions may have been or what she lied about is never known.

The ending of the story is also interesting as the reader becomes aware of just how much control the narrator’s wife has over the narrator. She appears to be using her sexuality to ensure that the narrator does not question her any further about her lie. Something that becomes clearer to the reader when the narrator kneels down in front of his wife. This action may be important as it suggests that the narrator is submitting to his wife and rather than focusing on why she might have lied is more focused on her body. In many ways the narrator is being enticed by his wife. The reader is also aware that at no stage does the wife fully admit as to why she has lied. By stripping off her clothes she manages to evade the question as to why she lied and if anything she puts the spotlight back on their friend. Suggesting it is the friend who can’t be believed even though she previously admits to having lied. Throughout the story there is a sense that the narrator is being manipulated by his wife.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Lie by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 21 May. 2016. Web.


  • He was for some time my favourite short story writer, but I haven’t read him for some time; your piece inspires me to go back to him. Btw, I’ve finally got round to subscribing to this blog; I see links on FB and often take a look at your posts. Now I’ll have them regularly. Symptom of a disorderly life, perhaps. Keep up the good work on short stories. I’ve dipped in and out of Cheever and H. James on mine, as you know. Always interesting to see who you choose.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Simon and thanks for subscribing to the blog. I still have a lot more Cheever stories I need to review. It’s just a matter of getting around to doing so. I also still have intentions of reviewing James but again I just don’t seem to be able to clear up my back log of stories I need to read. My desk is cluttered with books I have to read.

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