What We Talk about When We Talk about Love (1981)
Raymond Carver

    What We Talk about When We Talk about Love is Raymond Carver's collection of short stories of situations of very real main characters living the true outcomes of the American dream. Carver writes about the the side of the world some fear to face, where there is alcoholism, divorce, addiction, and violence. His characters, no matter their station in life, show vulnerability to which it is easy to relate.

The following is an essay I wrote in 1996 for my NJIT freshman humanities class called Writing, Speaking, Thinking taught by Dr. Nikki Stiller:

Love: Nature's Second Sun

The short stories contained within the larger story What We Talk about When We Talk about Love explain the title. These tales discuss everything that happens because of love but fail to give a clear definition of love. In the story, love gets its meaning in a roundabout way. Like the sun, love is warm and bright but it cannot be directly looked at or defined or else blindness could result.

    The story begins in a sunlit kitchen- a center of activity and life. Four people sit together, each from a different place, discussing the definition of love. Terri begins relating how the man she used to live with "loved her so much he tried to kill her." She protests that he loved her though Mel, her husband, says his definition of love is different in which "you don't try to kill people." Discussing Ed's suicide, Mel and Terri argue about what he died for. Terri says, "It was love. . .he was willing to die for it." Yet Mel contests, "I sure as hell wouldn't call it love. . .If that's love, you can have it." They continue wrestling for a clear definition of love but fail to reach one.

    Later in the conversation, Laura attests that she and her husband, Nick know what love is. The others admire their enduring love for each other, saying they are "still on the honeymoon." They all have a toast "to love."

    By afternoon, Mel claims he knows what real love is. He defines physical love as "that impulse that drives you to someone special," and carnal love as "sentimental day-to-day caring about the other person." He puzzles over how he used to love his first wife more than life itself and now he hates "her guts." He notes how everyone at the table loved and was married to other people before. The beautiful thing about love, Mel says, is that if something happens to one of them, the surviving party can go out and love again after some grieving. Eventually though, Mel admits he does not know anything but continues trying.

    Mel tells a story that "ought to make {them} feel ashamed when {they} talk like {they} know what {they are} talking about when {they} talk about love." He recounts how an elderly couple is severely injured in an auto accident. Each one had "casts and bandages, head to foot," and the husband was very depressed because he was unable to turn his head to see his wife. With this story, Mel asserts that he can define love but again, he fails to do so. With a metaphor Mel attempts love's meaning once more.

    As the room gets dark, Mel slowly gets drunk but most of what he says has great relevance to the subject of the story. He says that he would come back as a knight if he could come back again in a different time because "you were pretty safe wearing all that armor." However, Nick contends that sometimes "they get suffocated in all that armor. . .and even have heart attacks if it got too hot and {are} too tired and worn out."

    When the sun sets, Mel wants to call his kids but he decides not to in the fear that he has to talk to his ex-wife. Then he says how he wishes she would die by an allergic reaction to bees. After all this, the room goes dark into their blindness. Just how the sun can only be looked at indirectly, all four quietly realize that they can only define love the same way, by describing actions.

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