In the Raymond Carver short story, The Student’s Wife, we have the theme of insecurity, longing and paralysis. Taken from his Will You Please Be Quiet, Please collection the story begins with Mike and Nan, a married couple lying in bed. Nan has just fallen asleep and Mike is reading some of Rilke’s poetry. The setting of the bed is important because it suggests a sense of paralysis to the reader. Neither Mike nor Nan are going anywhere, particularly Nan who is asleep at the beginning. Eventually Nan wakes up and asks Mike to make her a sandwich, which he does. While eating the sandwich Nan tells Mike about her dream. She tells him that she dreamt that they had met another couple and that they were going for a ride in a motorboat. There was only enough room for three people in the front of the boat and Nan and Mike were arguing about who was to sit up front. After the argument Nan agreed to sit at the back of the boat. This is important because it highlights Nan’s feeling of being left out, something that the reader will become more aware of by the end of the story.
There is an example of longing when Nan asks Mike does he remember the time they stayed overnight on the Tilton River. They’d just got out of high school and Mike had caught a big trout. Though Mike remembers the time, he wishes that he didn’t because it reminds him of his half-baked ideas about life and art, but for Nan it is important because it is a time of hopes and aspirations, none of which have materialised. Instead they live in a small apartment and because of Mike’s job move every year.
Unable to sleep Nan tells Mike that her body is hurting, that she is uncomfortable. She asks Mike to give her a rub but Mike is nodding off. The symbolism of Nan’s ‘Growing pains’ as Mike calls them is important because Carver through their introduction is affording the reader the opportunity to realise that very little has changed for Nan since she was a child. The reader told that the size she is today is the size she was as a child, again the sense of paralysis or not moving forward or growing in life. Her statement to Mike ‘Didn’t you ever feel yourself growing?’ symbolically highlights to the reader that Nan wants more out of life.
Nan starts to tell Mike of the things she likes or would like in life. Again the reader notices that these are things that Nan really longs for. They are simple things but because of their circumstances aren’t attainable for Nan and Mike. Before she can find out what Mike would like in life, Nan notices that he has fallen asleep. Feeling alone she tries to regulate her breathing so that she can breathe in and out at the same rhythm as Mike, again the reader aware that Nan is uncomfortable. Finding it difficult to sleep Nan decides to get up and goes into the kitchen where she lights up a cigarette.
After she has checked on the children she sits in the living room and pages through a stack of magazines. As it starts to get brighter she goes to the window and looks out at the trees and the two storey apartments across the street. She can see the sun rising and thinks to herself that she hasn’t seen many sunrises. Again the symbolism of the sunrise is important because it highlights a new beginning. However the reader is aware that Nan hasn’t seen many sunrises, Carver introducing irony into the story.
The Student’s Wife ends with the morning arriving and Nan unlocking the apartment door and standing outside on the porch. She can feel the cold in the air and quickly makes her way back inside to the bedroom. Mike is still asleep and the reader is told that ‘He was knotted up in the center of the bed’, again the idea of being stuck or paralysed. On seeing Mike, Nan gets down on her knees and prays to God. Despite it being a new day she has realised that things aren’t going to change for her and Mike.