Why Don’t You Dance by Raymond Carver

Why Don't You Dance - Raymond CarverIn 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.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Why Don't You Dance by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.


  • “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.”

    I totally agree with this paragraph. For me, this story was all about ‘the play’ that is to be played by 2 people in a relationship. A play that can not be fully understood, you just play it.

    The scene that spoke to me the most was the one in which the girl is lying on the bed and asks for a kiss. The boy, kind of shamefully, refuses to; it’s like he’s ashamed to get sucked into ‘the play’ so easily.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Tom. I hadn’t clicked (or figured out) the scene between Jack and his girlfriend on the bed till I read your comment. Great insight.

  • What may have happened when they were drunk? Not sure but the part where the girl recalls that Max was putting a blanket on them, maybe shows Max -apart from all the other you highlight so right- was hoping the new couple will find the joy, he and his (ex)wife didn’t -so he tries to “keep them warm”

  • It is the first time I ever read Raymond Carver and I love it, so solid, full of emotions writing. Thank you Dermot for all your help!

  • Like quite a few of his stories I found the ending of this to be a mix of frustrating, enigmatic and ambiguous. The girl seemed to be a bit curious about the man’s situation and maybe made a bit of connection but there also seemed to be a bit of condescension and superficiality in how she mentioned the events in the end. Or was that just an act? As it was also mentioned that she suspected there was more to the man’s story.

    So how do you think she perceived the man actually? I guess it also rings true in a way as it’s difficult to really make a connection, especially as characters in this story just briefly pass through each other’s lives. They may wonder about each other but maybe that’s about it.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Gunjan. I think in some way that the girl is attracted to the man and for that reason she is questioning what happened. The intimacy of dancing with the man may have affected her in some way. Though it is also true that she only met him briefly and may find his actions strange and for that reason she is trying to figure the man out. She may also be lessening the impact of her encounter with the man in order for her to be able to move on. Stopping herself from looking any further into what happened and carrying on with her life.

      • “She may also be lessening the impact of her encounter with the man in order for her to be able to move on.”

        That makes sense, I kind of agree with you. There seemed to be a bit of condescension in how she was speaking about the man but that may have been an act, I suspected. Also, it’s very briefly alluded to that perhaps not all was right in the relationship between the boy and the girl.

        Have you seen the movie based on this story-Everything must go? (Of course it’s quite different with many additions as this story is only a few pages long.) And Short Cuts?

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          It may be a case that the girl’s pride is getting in the way hence she is acting in a condescending manner when talking about the man. Though we don’t know for sure he may have rejected her should she have made an advance towards him. Something that may have possibly happened if you consider it to be a case that all is not well in the boy’s and girl’s relationship.

          I haven’t seen Everything Must Go (or Short Cuts) but it is on my list of films to see.

    • I think that there is a reason why she is referred to a girl and Jack a boy. I also think it’s important to note, “Now and then a car slowed and people stared. But no one stopped.
      It offered to him that he wouldn’t, either.”

      I think picking the young couple was crucial to the story. And also why the girl stopped asking and couldn’t grasp the meaning of their connection. Maybe if she had been older? Experienced loss? I think the more you have experienced the more connected you may be to strangers. There are also a lot of signs of inexperience with life in the couple which I think was intentional.

  • I feel that the story is about a connection that happens through two different perspectives that end up merging under the realization the girl makes at the end. The man is looking at his belongings in the same set up as they were in his room and connects that setting to a former relationship. When the boy and the girl find the setting, they begin sitting on the furniture and seem to start to see if they can see themselves in this setting with these things in their house. This is apparent when she asks the boy to kiss her and when he sits to watch the TV, it is like their lives are playing to their surroundings. When the man comes back he is willing to give them anything in order to rid himself of the setting because it brings him pain.

    Part of him seems happy to see the young couple in it which is why I think he struggles with a mixed emotion from them. He begins to place them in scenarios that maybe remind him of ones he was in in his former relationship. Maybe he danced around the room and listened to records with his former wife and he’s using this to recreate that setting through the young couple. When the girl dances with the man she says “you must be desperate” almost as though using those words as a defense mechanism. I believe that’s the moment she realizes there’s “more to it” and she looks at the man and sees her potential future.

    She takes the things home and tries to downplay this moment she had where she realized she is currently in a happy relationship but that it could easily end up with all of these items that they took in to their house from the man on their own lawn someday and that they could end up as lonely as this man feels. She sees her future in the man and his belongings and tries to joke it off to fend off the doom of a potential reality.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Kerry. I like your insight into the story. I particularly like the comparisons between the girl and the man. I didn’t see that myself. How the girl might not want to end up living her life like the man.

  • Thank you for such an astute review, Dermot.

    I would love to contribute to the comments and add some thoughts on the topic.

    The line “…after a time she quit trying” poses a serious and somewhat discouraging problem of loneliness. Every man has his own battles whether to win or to lose, but it’s of no interest (not superficial as the girl has in the story) to others; and in time, eventually you find yourself alone surrounded by your stuff that you no longer need.

    As for the line “…it was nice or it was nasty…” I think it probably relates to his doubts about his future. He doesn’t know if he is ready to move on with his life. In this case the faces of these young people symbolise new beginnings, which he is not sure if he is ready to embrace.

  • Could someone Please explain how the author created an emotional impact on the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      One way is by having the boy and girl share a bed. Also the girl dances with the man. Which may show or highlight a connection on an emotional level.

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