Term Paper: Carver Given Poet and Author Raymond

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Carver

Given poet and author Raymond Carver's life's history, it comes as no surprise that his works consist of the raw and often severe existence of the blue collar worker, yet their innate ability to be resilient and find a way to rise above their circumstances. Born in the mill town of Clatskanie on the Columbia River in Oregon in 1938, Carver's alcoholic father had rode the rails from Arkansas to Washington state during the dust-bowl days of the 1930s and then made his living as a sawmill worker. His mother, Ella Casey Carver, who suffered as a victim of domestic violence, supplemented the family income by working as a waitress and retail clerk. Carver's 1986 poem "Shiftless" summarizes the story of his childhood: "The people who were better off than us were comfortable.... / The ones worse off were sorry and didn't work." Out of a life of hardship Carver created unforgettable stories of sorrow, endangerment, and hard-won acceptance. "They're my people," he once said about the laborers and service workers who form his characters. "I could never write down to them."

Carver's work, which first reached a national audience with the publication of "Neighbors" in Esquire Magazine in 1971, "was the product of a shy, sometimes self-destructive sensibility that drew its vision from the lives of the working poor among whom Carver grew up -- and whose mode of perceiving he never fully left behind, despite the comfort and acclaim he enjoyed in the last decade of his life." (Scribner Writer's Series.) However, it is this unassuming description of life during the mid-1900s that made him such a well-known and remembered author. By the time of his death in 1988, Carver was widely acknowledged as one of his age's finest writer's of short stories.

In 1941 when Carver was three years old, his family moved to Yakima, Washington, a fruit-growing and timber industry region. One of Carver's first memories was his mom taking a couple of tablespoons of "nerve medicine" every morning from a bottle stowed beneath the kitchen sink. Home was a just a series of little two-bedroom rented houses, most that lacked indoor plumbing.

While growing up, Carver and his brother spent a great deal of time hunting and fishing. In an interview, Carver called his childhood "fairly conventional in many respects": "We were a poor family, didn't have a car for the longest while, but I didn't miss having a car. My parents worked and struggled and finally became what I guess you'd call lower-middle class." He said they also did not have much in the manner of material goods or values. "But I didn't have to go out and work in the fields when I was ten years old or anything of that sort. Mainly I just wanted to fish and hunt and ride around in cars with other guys" (Scribner)

Although his father was typically drinking, Carver enjoyed his company when he read from the Bible and Zane Grey Westerns or told stories about his grandfather's Civil War adventures. Carver credits his dad's stories, sporting magazines like Field and Stream, and his love of hunting for his desire to write. In high school he took a writing correspondence course and sent his first try about a fishing story to an outdoor magazine. 'The piece came back, finally, but that was fine,' Carver recalled. 'It had gone out in the world, that manuscript -- it had been places.' (Kibble 2001).

After high school, Carver married and went to college in California and began to be recognized for his writing ability. He supported his family as a janitor while writing in his spare time. In 1967, he became a textbook editor and his short story "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?," was included in Best American Short Stories. Despite his initial success, he began to drink heavily. As he said in an interview "We were still in a state of penury... I more or less gave up, threw in the towel, and took to full-time drinking as a serious pursuit." (Kibble). For the next decade, both his writing success and alcoholism soared. He published many stories and became a noted author, but also divorced and was hospitalized for drinking numerous times. In 1977, with the help of AA, he stopped his habit and his works became more positive.

Carver continued to write extensively until his death from cancer in 1988. In the book A New Path to the Waterfall, Tess Gallagher, the author's long-time companion and wife in his final months, writes of his last poems and look at life while approaching death. "Ray kept on working, planning, believing that he might, through some loop in fate, even get out of this." His hope continued to the end as he wrote in his journal: "When hope is gone, the ultimate sanity is to grasp at straws." The alternative to reaching forward at the age of 50 was acceptance of death, which was impossible for him. (xviii)

In the second passage of "Ward No. 6" a doctor and the elderly postmaster discuss the human soul:

And you do not believe in the immortality of the soul?' he would ask suddenly.

No, honoured Mihail Averyanitch; I do not believe it, and have no grounds for believing it.' must own I doubt it too. And yet I have a feeling as though I should never die. Oh, I think to myself: "Old fogey, it is time you were dead!" But there is a little voice in my soul says: "Don't believe it; you won't die."

This optimism only came in Carver's later years. As an alcoholic and depressed, his characters were much different. In 1976 when his first major work Will You Be Quiet, Please? was published, he said in an interview that all his writings were grounded in autobiographical details "But unless you're a special kind of writer, and a very talented one," he related, "it's dangerous to write volume after volume on the Story of My Life. [...] A little autobiography and a lot of imagination are best." (Kibble)

Carver's stories introduce the reader to a mundane world of everyday life. The characters, usually white- and blue-collar workers, salesmen and waitresses, are trying to cope in a drab world where unemployment and personal bankruptcy always loom as a constant worry.

Most of Carver's poems also focus on that sadness and disillusionment, especially as seen in relationships that, too, are semi-autobiographical. In "Marriage," for example, he stresses on the pressures of TV show characters that a recently married couple are watching "and the destruction / they must know lies in store just after / the next cruel turn of circumstance, and then the next" -- facts of life that Carver is implying will touch the happy newlyweds in the future, but which they do not realize at the present time. Likewise, in the short story "Kindling," a man, Myers, frantically splitting a cord of wood tries to push himself forward after alcoholism and the breakup of a marriage.

The story tells about times that are similar to those when Carver declared himself an alcoholic and once again began writing seriously. Myers is writing a letter to his wife. It was a long and "perhaps the most important letter he'd ever written in his life." He was trying to explain how he was so sorry for everything he had done and hoped one day he would be forgiven. "I would get down on my knees and ask forgiveness if that would help" (15)

At the end of the story, Myers is once again able to get back to his writing, "He looked at the pile of sawdust out in the back and the wood stacked against the shadowy recesses of the garage. He listened to the river for a while. Then he went back over to the table and sat down and opened the notebook and began to write...'Today I saw a wild eagle, and a deer, and I cut and chopped two cords of wood.'...Then he put the pen down and held his head in his hands for a moment" (20).

Despite the fact that Carver's stories are about such difficult times in the lives of his characters, he always presents them with self-respect. "His stories, as one critic remarked, grant to each person "a measure of dignity because, if nothing else at all, this person has the distinction that no one else is precisely like him" (Taub,).

Such positive feelings are not easy to portray, adds Taub in his article about Carver (2). It is difficult to empathize with his protagonists and narrators who are usually insensitive, hardened and inarticulate. The world they inhabit makes it even more difficult to feel compassion for them, even from the American perspective. Carver's cast of characters has, for most part, committed the one wrong American culture refuses to forgive, or even to recognize: failure. Their own country looks at these characters with "moralizing contempt rather than compassion," which, unfortunately,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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