The Train by Raymond Carver
In The Train by Raymond Carver we have the theme of connection, desperation and acceptance. Taken from his Cathedral collection, the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and is a follow up of a John Cheever short story called ‘The Five-Forty-Eight.’ What is interesting about the story it that there are several different stories not being told. First the reader is unaware (unless they have read Cheever’s story) as to why Miss Dent would hold a man up at gun point. Also the old man’s arrival into the waiting room, there is no explanation as to why he is not wearing any shoes. It is assumed that both he and his companion have left the city in a hurry, which may suggest a sense of desperation, a desperation that is matched by Miss Dent’s pulling of the gun on the man (Blake) but again no explanation is given to the reader by Carver as to what may have caused either Miss Dent or the old man’s desperation. In many ways, Carver never tells their story to the reader.
The reader is given brief insights into what may have happened to cause the old man to arrive at the station with no shoes. However it is confusing, with only snippets given by the middle-aged woman which are difficult if not impossible to link together. It may be a domestic dispute or it may not, again the reader never really gets a clear picture as to what may have happened the old man. There is never a clear picture as to who Captain Nick may be or his importance in the old man’s life. That could be the point that Carver is trying to make. It is possible that he is suggesting that a brief encounter with somebody or overhearing a conversation, in a shared space like a train station waiting room, will not give any clear insight into who that person may be. Just as the reader will have no insight into Miss Dent, unless they read Cheever’s story, likewise, without a clear backstory about the old man, it is impossible to guess what his story may be.
Throughout the story the reader also tries to make a connection between all three characters but it is difficult as there doesn’t appear to be one. Apart from the fact that all three are waiting on a train to arrive, they don’t appear to have anything else in common. The characters themselves also appear to be making an attempt to connect in some way with each other. The middle-aged woman tries to talk a little to Miss Dent, while Miss Dent is tempted to tell both the old man and the middle-aged woman that she has a gun in her hand bag.
Though Carver does not provide any clear insight into what may have happened Miss Dent or the old man, there is a sense that they are willing to tell their story. Miss Dent when it appears like she is going to tell the middle-aged woman something about herself is stopped by the arrival of the train and the old man’s story appears to be partly told by the middle-aged woman. It is possible that Carver is suggesting that everybody has a story to tell, however it may not be a clear as one would like, particularly in the case of the old man.
There is also an interesting sense of acceptance for the circumstances that Miss Dent and the old man find themselves in. Miss Dent is remarkably calm for an individual who has been involved with holding up a man with a gun. Likewise whatever has happened the old man, he appears to have gotten over it. This is noticeable by the fact that he calmly walks around the waiting room as if he were walking along the promenade.
There is another interesting attempt at connection at the end of the story when the train arrives and the passengers look at Miss Dent and the couple boarding the train. There is an assumption among the passengers that all three are together. Again this may be significant as Carver could be suggesting the necessity within people to try and connect the pieces that they see (in people) together. However just like the reader, the passengers are not given any clearer insight into any possible link between all three characters. It is also noticeable at the end of the story that the passengers view all three characters no differently than they would anybody else, Carver telling the reader that the passengers ‘scarcely gave another thought to these three who moved down the aisle and took up their places.’ This may be significant as it suggests that just like Miss Dent and the old man who have accepted their circumstances or are at least comfortable about what has happened them, the passengers too, are comfortable with Miss Dent, the old man and his travelling companion.