Why, Honey by Raymond Carver

In Why, Honey by Raymond Carver we have the theme of trust and fear. Taken from his Will You Please Be Quiet, Please collection the story is written in the form of a letter (an epistolary narrative) and at no stage in the story is the reader certain as to who the letter is addressed to but is given the view point of a mother (narrator) writing about her miscreant son and how she still lives in fear of him despite it being sometime since she last saw him. There are several instances in the story that emphasis or highlight the theme of trust, or rather the lack of it. First there is the time when the narrator’s son was fifteen and there was an incident with their cat, Trudy. A neighbour told the narrator that she seen two boys, one of which she believed to be the narrator’s son putting firecrackers in Trudy’s ears, resulting in them exploding and killing Trudy. Despite not wanting to believe her neighbour, the narrator suspects it was her son, even though he denied any knowledge of the incident. Then there is the time her son, again when younger, got a Saturday job working in Hartley’s. After his first week of work the narrator asked him how much he earned and he told her eighty dollars. It is only when she is doing his washing that she sees his pay stub and sees that he only earned twenty eight dollars.

These are not the only occasions when the narrator finds out that her son is lying to her (resulting in her being unable to trust him). She also discovers that when he had previously told her that he was on a school field trip he was in fact playing hooky from school. Another occasion in which the narrator finds her son lying is when the son ends up getting his own car and doesn’t return home one night. When he does return home, the following morning, the narrator asks her son where he has been and he just says ‘Wenas.’ When she asks who he was with, he replies ‘Fred’. Though there appears to be nothing unusual about this, apart from the narrator not knowing who Fred is, things take a sinister turn later when the mother goes to the trunk of her son’s car a few days later to check to see if he has got her the groceries she asked for. She discovers a shirt full of blood that is still wet. When her son sees the narrator with the shirt, he tells her that he had a bloody nose. It is at this stage that the narrator starts to fear her son as she is aware that he keeps his gun and knife in the trunk of his car too.

There are further instances in whereby the reader discovers that the narrator is afraid of her son. On one occasion, she explains how she went into her son’s bedroom one night because she couldn’t sleep and asked him did he want a cup of hot tea. Angered by her coming into the room he screams at her to get out and tells her that he’s sick of her spying on him. There is somewhat of an apology the next day from the son when he shows the narrator an essay he has done for school. What is also interesting about the narrator is that despite being afraid of her son she is still proud of him over the essay. However when the narrator tells him that he has to show her some respect and consideration, he tells her to kneel down in front of him. This frightens the narrator and she locks herself in her bedroom.

The narrator writes that this was the last time she saw or spoke to her son.  While she was still locked in her bedroom he packed his things and left for good. She does however see him in the distance at his graduation, when she sees him accept a prize for his essay. Later the narrator learns that he has joined the marines and after the marines had gone to college, got married and got himself involved in politics. Although the narrator has never physically seen her son since the incident when he told her to kneel down in front of her (son exerting power over his mother), she has on several occasions seen him on TV and in the newspapers and is aware he is the Governor

Even at the end of the story the reader can sense the fear within the mother, she still remains afraid. Despite moving address and having an unlisted number and changing her name, the reader learns that the narrator has received a telephone call in which the person at the other end of the line, hung up without speaking. The narrator is suspicious that this call is either from her son, or from people who work for him. She also believes that people have parked on her street and have been watching her, again heightening the narrators fear.

There is also a sense of the unknown at the end of the story too. The reader doesn’t know who the letter is written to, though neither does the narrator. She closes her letter by writing ‘I also wanted to ask how you got my name and knew where to write, I have been praying no one knew. But you did. Why did you? Please tell me why.’ This last sentence is important as it further suggests to the reader (and the recipient of the letter) that despite the passing of time, the narrator remains afraid of her now powerful son.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Why, Honey by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.


  • Just a thought, it ends with “yours truly” and nothing after that. It’s possible something (or somebody) could have gotten to her before signing her name.

  • I just read the story, and it rocked me to my core. My son has played many of the same games with me. Carver sucks you in with just a couple pages. His stories are like a swirling vortex. It’s hard to pull yourself out. This one left me dumbstruck.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Dan. Carver definitely does manage to grip the reader throughout the story. Leaving them as afraid as the character. Of all the Carver stories I’ve read this one in particular sticks to my mind. Mostly because of the sense of fear that the mother has when it comes to her son. Rather than the mother being able to live her life as she would like she remains haunted by her son’s (now powerful) presence.

      • Thanks for the validation, Dermot. I’m new to Carver’s writing. Saw Short Cuts, and now need to get that collection too.


        • Dermot (Post Author)

          I haven’t seen Short Cuts yet but it has been recommended to me.

          • It has Tom Waits and Lily Tomlin, and I swear to God, Huey Lewis full frontal urinating. It is a glorious train wreck. The various stories are melded into a continuing stream, crossing into each other and making it a whole. Lyle Lovett is in it, along with many others, all sharing time and not being greedy. It’s quite perplexing, in a good way, and I can only assume Carver would have approved.

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          I haven’t seen Short Cuts yet but it has been recommended to me.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Dan. Carver definitely does manage to grip the reader throughout the story. Leaving them as afraid as the character. Of all the Carver stories I’ve read this one in particular sticks to my mind. Mostly because of the sense of fear that the mother has when it comes to her son. Rather than the mother being able to live her life as she would like she remains haunted by her son’s (now powerful) presence.

    • Well put, Dan. And I’m just getting out of a marriage where I’ve dealt with behavior of constant lying and denials of anything unusual going on. Today we would call it gaslighting.

      But reading this actually put a knot in my stomach because it feels so familiar. Swirling vortex is right. Carver knew how to present the reader with complex and twisted scenarios full of implications and subtleties. Great stuff.

  • What did the son mean when he asked his mother to kneel?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Raul. The son was attempting to control his mother. To shape her into something of his own making. To bend her will so as to show her that he was superior to her.

  • Do you have an insight of where the story takes place? What the setting is? I need the knowledge by tomorrow for my English exam, so I’m not sure I’m gonna get an answer in time, but I would like to know anyhow 🙂

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Laura. As far as I can figure out the story is set in the narrator’s home, suburban America. Good luck with your exam.

  • I think the author is trying to show the reader what it would be like to have schizophrenia. He leaves many questions unanswered and leaves the mother in fear of something. These point me into thinking that the mother is schizophrenic.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment John. I hadn’t thought about the mother having schizophrenia or any other medical condition.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment John. I hadn’t thought about the mother having schizophrenia or any other medical condition.

    • Her letter is to coherent and logical for her to have been schizophrenic. Her description of her son’s behaviour is also too grounded in the real world: a schizophrenic woman would exhibit more magical thinking she might claim that her son was possessed by demons/the men in black swapped her baby as part of a sinister government conspiracy/obviously nonsensical.

      Rather the woman carefully describes behaviour that is clearly symptomatic of escalating psychopathology. A schizophrenic woman would not be able to remake her life and live under a new identity either, nor support a child as a single mother (at least not in a society that is so bereft of social welfare).

  • Excelente el análisis que haces de los cuentos….sin desperdicio.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Gracias por el comentario Juan. Todavía puedo perder cosas en algunas de las historias que afortunadamente captan otros lectores.

  • I think that one of the fascinating and wonderful things about Carver’s stories is that they can be understood and interpreted in multiple ways. I believe that there can never be a “correct” and “final” analysis of any of them.

    I think that one possible interpretation of this story is that the narrator (mother) is delusional and paranoid, and that her son didn’t actually do any of the evil things she believes he did. He left her because he felt the need to escape from the ravages of her illness.

    Now he may be trying to track her down so that he can help her. However, her belief that he is trying to find her may also simply be another one of her delusions.

    In many of Carver’s story there is often no clear delineation between what is “real” and what is not “real.” I believe this story epitomizes this aspect of his writing.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment H W. I would agree with everything you said. Carver’s writing is open to interpretation and views on his writing can differ from reader to reader. There is a good chance that the mother is an unreliable narrator and that she may be delusional. The son could easily be an innocent victim of her delusion. I also like your idea that there is no clear delineation between what is real and what is not real and would agree with you that this story falls into that category.

  • Well, Carver’s mom had schizophrenia (disease where you can’t tell what’s real or not, and you sometimes fixate on a person of power) and he grew up in a house where she was always talking to no one. His dad divorced his mom and he moved out of the house as soon as possible. The story is about a schizophrenic woman (nothing is known about her personal life) who has fixated on the governor of her town and read about how he was in the Marines and such, and she has convinced herself it is her son. The stories of Trudy and the job are seemingly made up by her lost mind. Parts of them, like a cat named Trudy or a company named Hartley’s, could be real, but the details are not. That’s my theory given Carver’s childhood.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment and insight Tom. I don’t know much about Carver’s personal life. He could easily be drawing on personal experience.

    • But i can’t find any evidence for this: all the evidence I have found online is that Ella Carver supported his alcoholic father for years. Something that Ella Carver wouldn’t have been able to do had she been schizophrenic. Had the mother been schizophrenic her descriptions of her son would have evidence more of magical thinking: for example she might have said that a conspiracy of lizard aliens had swapped her son out for the Antichrist, causing him to sacrifice the family cat to Satan.*

      It also worth noting that no father is ever mentioned: the mother seems to have brought up her son alone. Rather the mother’s description is a coherent account of her son’s emerging psychopathy. Almost as if Carver had read a book on serial killers, or less likely but still possible, known one growing up.

      *Or some other completely nonsensical claim.

      I know of a schizophrenic woman who shot her baby daughter because she thought her child was possessed by a demon.

  • I think that she’s writing to her son, because maybe he has found her under her new name and address and he wrote to her in disguise to know what his mother thinks about him. And maybe, she hasn’t signed the letter because her son had arrived at the door before she could end the letter, then she discovered that she was writing to her son.

  • I think if the mother was schizophrenic, her delusions about her son would be more magical-since magical thinking is a huge part of schizophrenia. That is to say, that where she schizophrenic she would be saying things like her son was possessed by demons/aliens/lizards/swapped at birth by a sinister government conspiracy.

    Furthermore the incidents she would describe would be a lot more magical: demonic powers/alien powers/MIB showing up at her house. Rather the mother’s cautious description of the son’s behaviour is a textbook case of an emerging psychopath: either Carver had read a book about serial killers (likely) or known one-not impossible since the 1970’s and 1980’s had about 400 active serial killers.

  • The mother might not recognize the name of the correspondent of the letter, but it seems plausible that it is a member of the media, perhaps getting background or digging dirt

  • I think that the son told his mother to kneel in front of him the story cuts before she is forced to perform fellatio on him. This is why she ends up living in fear of him – because, as politician, he is fearful of being exposed as sadistic. I don’t buy the schizophrenic story at all.

  • In the very beginning the mother shows her fear and concerns about her son seeing his name on the paper and reading about all his doings and I just immediately assumed that maybe her son was a murderer or some sort of a criminal. The following account of her son sort of confirmed the assumption because to me the son’s behavior was that of a psychopath. The real interesting twist of the story was( for me at least) that he had become a successful man not a murderer and this is even more horrid and ghastly because the readers know how scary he actually is.

  • It could be that…

    The son didn’t kill the cat and he could sense her suspicion, which upset him. After that, every time she’d ask him something, he would tell her a lie. It gave him power, the power that she sought when asking him questions.

    In his mind he thought she had no right to know anything about him. She’d upset him forever. The smiling son that told her what she wanted to hear was a mask. The son hated her and lived there until he was able to escape.

    When asked why he lied to her, he told her to kneel. It’s a reflection of how he felt when he had to answer her questions, as if she was royalty and he had to serve her. I don’t believe there was anything incestuous being implied in the story.

    Or he could be a sociopathic politician who pretends to be a nice person, and only his mother knows the truth.

  • „But reading this actually put a knot in my stomach because it feels so familiar.“

    Interesting to see several comments like that. And I had thought, now for once even Carver wrote a story way over the top, over-dramatizing.

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