Will You Please Be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver
In Will You Please Be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver we have the theme of connection, fear, crisis, escape, defeat, memories, letting go and identity. Taken from his collection of the same name the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and very early on in the story the reader realises that Carver, by providing a historical back drop to the story, is delving into the themes of memory and identity. There are several things that the reader can learn from the narrator’s exploring of Ralph’s background. We become aware that before going to college and through part of his college years, Ralph didn’t really know what he wanted to do. This is significant as it plays on the theme of identity. The reader also learns that while Ralph was in college he made a connection with not only Dr Maxwell but also with Marian and it is the fragility of this connection that Carver appears to be exploring. It is also while Ralph was in college that he drank heavily, the reader learning that ‘it was during this time – his lowest ebb, as he referred to it later – that Ralph believed he almost had a nervous breakdown.’ This line may be important as it suggests a crisis in Ralph’s life one that is now matched by Ralph’s discovery that Marian has cheated on him.
Despite Ralph suggesting to Marian that her encounter with Mitchell Anderson was over four years ago, it becomes clear to the reader that this is not the truth. Ralph’s inaccurate claim about when Marian and Mitch slept together may be deliberate. The reader is aware that though it was two years since the incident, Ralph continues to think about it more and more. It is quite possible that Ralph’s inaccuracy with regard to the time of the affair is a deliberate attempt by Ralph to at least attempt to show Marian that what happened between her and Mitch doesn’t bother him that he has let it go. However when he does fully discover that Marian has slept with Mitch, Ralph is unable to let go.
Carver also appears to use some symbolism in the story. As Ralph is walking through town, he comes to Second Street and the reader learns that locally it is called Two Street. This may be significant as Carver may be suggesting the opportunity of a second chance between Ralph and Marian. It may also be significant that Ralph recalls visiting a second-hand shop on Two Street. Again Carver may be suggesting that everybody needs a second chance. Though whether Ralph himself is prepared to give Marian a second chance only becomes clearer at the end of the story.
There is further symbolism in the story which may be significant, as it may further suggest the theme of identity. While Ralph is in Jim’s Oyster House, he goes to the bathroom to freshen up and looks at himself in the mirror. Carver may be suggesting that symbolically Ralph is looking at his life again, trying to figure out what direction it is going to take, now that he is fully aware Marian has slept with Mitch. In many ways Ralph’s actions, mirror his time when he was in college and he did not know which direction to take. Similarly now, Ralph is unsure of what to do.
The poker game may also be significant, as it in many ways mirrors Ralph’s relationship with Marian. Just like in college when he enjoyed spending time with Marian and eventually married her, Ralph has some early luck while playing cards. However as the night progresses things get steadily worse and Ralph loses all his money with the exception of two dollars. By leaving Ralph with two dollars Carver may again be suggesting the possibility of a reconciliation between Ralph and Marian. The mugging incident is also interesting as Carver may possibly be suggesting that it (the mugging) is symbolically similar to the emotional upheaval that Ralph is going through over Marian’s adultery. It has left him emotionally bankrupt.
The ending of the story is also interesting as it is only at the end that the reader begins to get an idea of what direction Ralph is going to take. Again Carver has Ralph looking at himself in the mirror, though this time he is making different kinds of expressions. This may be symbolic, as it could suggest that things are going to change for Ralph. It is also interesting that while he is lying down on the bed the reader finds that though Ralph tenses when Marian touches him, he let’s go a little. This may be significant as Ralph’s physical reaction towards Marian’s touch suggests that symbolically he is prepared to let go of what has happened between Marian and Mitch. Another physical movement by Ralph while he is lying down in bed that is also interesting is the fact he turns his body towards Marian. Again this may suggest that Ralph is symbolically turning over, letting what has happened in the past go. In many ways Ralph is reconnecting with Marian.