Why Don’t You Dance by Raymond Carver
In Why Don’t You Dance? by Raymond Carver we have the theme of separation, change, connection, appearance, uncertainty and acceptance. Taken from his What We Talk about When We Talk about Love collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises how important the setting of the story is. Though the reader can’t say for certain as to why the man has moved all his furniture and belongings outside to his front yard it may be a case that he is attempting to move on with his life or let go of a past that may or may not have involved his wife leaving him. Though she is only briefly mentioned at the beginning of the story and it is never explicitly stated it is possible that she has left him, though there is no certainty as to why she may have done so. However if the reader takes into consideration how reliant the man is on alcohol throughout the story it is possible that he may be dependent on alcohol and as such his wife rather than live her life with an active alcoholic (which the man appears to be) has decided to leave. Though again it is difficult to say for certain. Either way there is a sense that the man’s life has changed dramatically and how displaced he may feel is noticeable by his decision to move all his furniture and belongings out to the front yard, possibly with the intention to sell everything.
It is also possible that the man’s willingness to accept the first price that Jack and his girlfriend offer for the furniture mirrors his longing to see a return to functionality at least for someone else now that his own life appears to be beyond repair. Though his own life may be going downhill, at least he can see that what he has built around him (his furniture and belongings) has a useful purpose for others. Again it may be significant that every item that Jack and his girlfriend turn on works and has a purpose or usefulness to them. Though it is also possible that the man may simply want to forget about his past and move on with his life and by selling all his belongings at any price he is attempting to make a fresh start in his life. However it is difficult to be certain particularly if the reader considers that the man has a dependency on alcohol, yet at no stage in the story does he let go of this dependency, rather he continues drinking even going as far as offering Jack and his girlfriend a drink, which may suggest that the man is lonely, something that may have been triggered by his wife leaving him.
Carver also appears to be exploring the theme or idea of connection. When the man tells Jack to name his price for the desk, he looks at Jack and his girlfriend and notices something about their faces ‘It was nice or it was nasty. There was no telling.’ This line may be important as it would appear that the man is attempting to make some sort of connection with Jack and his girlfriend. It is also possible that the man by being uncertain about both Jack and his girlfriend may also be thinking of the uncertainty that exists in his own life. It may also be important that the man tells Jack’s girlfriend to put a record on as by doing so Carver manages to symbolically link or connect all three characters in the story to each other. Carver explores the theme of connection further when Jack’s girlfriend is dancing with the man. She tells him ‘You must be desperate or something.’ This line may also be important as it suggests that Jack’s girlfriend is trying to understand or make a connection between the man and why he is selling all his furniture. The fact that the man also gives the record player and some of his records to Jack and his girlfriend may also be significant as despite them having some value to the man and possibly holding some memory of his life with his wife, Jack’s girlfriend considers the records to be ‘crappy’ and ‘shit’. Which may suggest the records hold no value (emotional, material or otherwise) to Jack or his girlfriend and rather than feeling connected to the man, Jack’s girlfriend instead considers the records to be of no use at all. It may also be a case that by giving the records to Jack and his girlfriend that the man is hoping that just as his furniture and belongings may be of some benefit to them he may also hope that his record player and records might also provide Jack and his girlfriend with some happiness (as they may have done in his life).
The ending of the story is also interesting as though Jack’s girlfriend is never certain as to what may have happened during her time with the man she does know that ‘there was more to it.’ However the narrator also tells the reader that ‘after a time, she quit trying.’ Again this line may be important as it further suggests that Jack’s girlfriend, though she remains uncertain as to what may have happened has also given up attempting to understand what may have happened which suggests on some level that she accepts that she may never know or understand why the man put all his furniture and belongings in his front yard or what may have happened when she was drinking with the man. Which in many ways is similar to how the reader may feel after reading the story. Unlike a lot of Carver’s stories, which follow a plot or a clear story line, Why Don’t You Dance leaves the reader without a clear picture as to what has happened. Which could have been Carver’s intention, leaving it to each individual reader to interpret the story as they see fit. By not giving the reader a backdrop that they might be able to use to understand the motives or the reasons as to why the man is selling everything it may be a case that Carver is suggesting that what occurs in a relationship between two people (the man and his wife) is not necessarily something that can be understood by others like Jack’s girlfriend or the reader themselves.