Influences of Feminism and Class on Raymond Carver

Years before Carver published “Fires,” Tillie Olsen published the essay “Silences” in Harpers Magazine (1965, originally delivered in 1962), an essay about Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 54 how the circumstance of most lives preclude artistic creativity. She later included this essay in a collection of creative essays; this became the feminist classic Silences. This collection explores the nature of literary silences, extensively documenting the experienced agony of work interrupted for various life circumstances, even amongst the most esteemed writers.

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An essential part of Olsen argument is that creativity is an integral part of human identity, which scars and stultifies human growth when interrupted or silenced. Particularly invested in answering the question of why women are so underrepresented in literature, Olsen posits that women are traditionally trained to place others’ needs first,” thereby lacking the necessary self focus to create time and space to cultivate their writing (35).

Lack of confidence, or Dealer Tanat one NAS anything worthwhile to say, or ten ruling to say It, are part AT ten lacking inner “needs of creation” (46): Olsen reminds us that “Chekhov (a first- generation) [and one of Carver’s greatest writer-influences] called becoming a writer, ‘squeezing the serf out of one’s soul” (288). Class, as Chekhov and Carver attest, as well as race, as Olsen also argues, are also obstacles to creativity.

Being a member of the antinomian class, race, or gender meaner one rarely has access to the time and resources necessary to cultivate creativity, or is able to find validation of a “different sense of reality’ and the confidence to express one’s own perspective” (88). Although his writing and educational needs came first in his relationship with Maryanne Burk Carver, 1 Carver’s class—both his and his wife’s need for employment—prevented him from being comfortably cushioned from the demands of daily domestic life, the “unrelieved responsibility and permanent distraction” he found almost unbearably frustrating (33).

Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 55 While Carver’s representation of working-class characters is lauded in discussion of his stories, both critical and popular, it is notable that his writing is never examined in relation to the writing of one of the most visible literary fugues of his time who also became renowned for her depictions of working-class people, Tillie Olsen. Although Olsen was of a generation prior to Carver’s, and was actively involved in the American Communist Party during the asses, she also published two of her three major book collections during the asses, Yonder and Silences.

Olsen was also an important short story writer, winning the O. Henry Award for “Tell Me a Riddle,” in 1961, an award that Carver himself would receive in 1983 and 1988. While both Olsen and Carver were important short story writers interested in representing fairly and accurately workingman’s people, one of the more obvious reasons for their not being treated together is the writer’s respective political and cultural contexts and audiences.

Whereas Carver was published in glossy magazines and achieved mainstream literary recognition, as close to a household name as a literary figure was keel to become in his era, Olsen found a narrower, and more politicized audience. As Okay Holly Nelson argues [h]ere work has had the broadest appeal to women and those concerned with the affairs of women. . Primarily, Olsen has gained attention because she has placed women at the center of her art as the stalwarts of class and gender struggle.

She has crystallized the charge that authenticators American society has failed to understand and cultivate the full potential of its underclass’s, particularly its working-class women (2). In contrast to Olsen, Carver eschewed an ever politics; for many, his stories also embodied the widespread political ennui of the post Civil Rights era. Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 56 This essay posits, however, that Carver’s biographical experiences and historical positioning sensitizes ml to ten many social Ana cultural Electrodes on Temptingly and masculinity prominent during the asses and asses.

While it is impossible and not even necessarily desirable to examine the relationship between biography and affectionately characters, it is important to note that both Ella and Maryanne worked in service Jobs for much of his life. They provided, from their vantage points as mothers, wives, and workers, an influential lens onto the world for Carver, and one that intersects variously with a labor feminist perspective. Mikhail Baking’s theory of dialogs gets at the process by which language and representation escape an author’s control, some of which one is unaware (Holiest xx).

A writer of what Baking calls polyphonic texts, Carver was certainly aware on one level of how complex his female characters are. However, it is unlikely he was conscious of the many discourses or even politics they tapped into. Teasing out the different languages and voices in Carver’s stories provides a fuller reading of his treatment of working and middle class characters, as well as insights into the decades they were written. While there is not an overt politics in Carver’s stories, his stories do treat feminist issues and concerns and can be read as a valuable mirror of contemporaneous discourse on masculinity and femininity.

Although Carver’s treatment of feminism sometimes draws heavily on mainstream feminist discourses of the asses and asses, his representations at times also intersect with what Dorothy Sue Cobble terms a abort feminist perspective, a feminism which has not viewed gender difference and equality as incompatible, and stressed the “multiple sources”—notably of class and race as well as gender—of women’s secondary status in society (3-4).

Examining parts of Carver’s Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 57 biography and stories in relation to Tillie Olsen and more general labor feminist insights into the nature of representation and class will help tease out the relationship between Carver and his female characters, both working class and middle class. 2 Even as Carver struggled to reconcile his own domestic susceptibilities with his desire to write, it was largely through female characters in his fiction, defined and confined by their domestic roles, that he comes closest to writing metrification. In something of a paradox, then, it is through several of his female characters that he is most convincingly able to demonstrate an inner growth and ability to break out of individual bewilderment and isolation to connect imaginatively with other people, a necessary skill for a writer. While Carver apparently viewed parenting as a uniformly negative force on his writing, and it is table that his own children in fictional guises rarely appear in his stories (“Mr…

Coffee and Mr… Fixity” excepting), the primary women in his life, including Maryanne Burk Carver, as well as his mother, Ella Carver, and second wife, Tees Gallagher, seem to have been an enormous influence on his writing. Interestingly, although Carver never mentions them as influences in the essay, these relationships manifest themselves complexly in his stories, in the conflict-laden realm of male/female relationships but in more positive ways as well.

I newer was a resurgence AT Interest In ten working class In Down politics Ana popular ultra in the asses, the decade Carver’s stories achieved recognition. This was the decade in which Richard Nixon discovered, or arguably created, the Silent Majority, an amorphous group of non-radical Americans whose description, in addition to being white and conservative, was often decidedly blue-collar.

As labor historian Jefferson Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 58 Cookie demonstrates, this popular and political interest in blue-collar workers diminished during the asses even as industrial employment waned in the United States. However, notable exceptions remained, and the hardhat remained a stock Geiger throughout the asses, although notably Roseanne Joined Bruce Springiness in popular iconography by the decade’s end, denoting an increasing complexity in working-class representation.

It is significant that Raymond Carver’s stories, which also featured working-class characters, were published and achieved renown during these decades; Carver’s stories also loosely followed this class trajectory, likely due as much to his own social mobility as to external social and cultural factors. Although class was an important dimension of Carver’s fiction, critics and reviewers rarely explored it as a component of identity beyond the surface signifier by which his much touted minimalism became identified: the transitory Jobs, money worries, Junk food. Carver complicated often facile treatments of working-class characters.

Even as studies of the working-class continued to primarily revolve around white, male industrial workers, which Julie Betties correctly understands to be an “exclusionary formulation of class” that generally ignores formulations of class among women and non-white workers, Carver reflected the changing composition of the working-class in he United States from industrial to service work (126). Perhaps even more notable than his focus on working-class male characters—a rarity for “serious” literature even during the asses—is his depiction of working-class women.

As representations of women were becoming more complex in American culture, thanks largely to what became known as the second wave of feminism, complex portrayals of working-class women were (and are today) too scarce in fiction and popular culture. Carver, like other writers of his period, notably female writers of color, was Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 59 eloping to give women a voice as classed, as well as gendered, subjects. In his stories, Carver contributed to the cultural representations of strong, believable women, many of whom were working-class, foregrounding their perspectives and experiences.

Carver’s men suffer in comparison with women in his stories, who are often clearly hampered by the impulses or institutions that bind them to the men in their lives. In their more benign form, his male characters are paralyzed by lack of imagination, by alcoholism, Day oppression and/or Day a more Inexplicable lethargy. Also cantonal In unsatisfying Jobs or marriages, his female characters, however, are most often actively involved in the process of living, and frequently also try, even if indeterminately, to find meaning or bring change to their lives.

The marital discord permeating Carver’s stories echoes the seismic shifts marriage was encountering in mainstream United States culture as changing gender norms, including changing masculine norms, provoked feminist critiques of traditional marriage. This, combined with the increasingly liberal divorce laws and a more culturally sanctioned focus on individual needs and desires, resulted in the solution of many marriages. Some of Carver’s stories, like “The Student’s Wife” and “l Could See the Smallest Things,” seem to overtly reference mainstream feminism and its focus on the constraints of the domestic sphere, particularly for women. The Student’s Wife” from Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? Depicts Nan’s sleepless night and increasingly horrific existential Journey toward morning, as her husband snores, nodding to sleep during her attempt to create a list for him of things she likes. In one of her several attempts to keep her husband awake with her, Nan tells him of one of ere dreams, a thinly veiled metaphor for her backseat status in their relationship.

While her husband successfully soothes Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 60 himself to sleep with Rile, Nan spends the night reading magazines, perhaps an allusion to the women’s magazines that were the target of Betty Friedman’s ire in The Feminine Mystique, with their exaltation of all things domestic. The story ends with her contemplating a “terrible” sunrise and returning to her bedroom, in preparation for a day to be spent supervising, we learn at the beginning of the story, “all of the our-to-seventeen-olds in the Woodlawn Apartments” (122).

While we get even less context for “l Could See the Smallest Things” from What We Talk about When We Talk about Love,” the story protagonist Nancy, like the similarly named Nan in “The Student’s Wife,” is suffering a sleepless night next to her also snoring and gurgling husband. Venturing outside and going to close the gate—which she notices in the moonlight is standing open “like a dare”—takes on epic dimensions: “The moon lighted up everything—houses and trees, poles and power lines, the whole world.

I erred around the backyard before I stepped off the porch. A little breeze came along that made me close the robe. I started for the gate” (32). The smallest [domestic] things take on enormous proportions in the story, from the clothespins on the line glowing in the moonlight to her next-door neighbor, whose battle with his personal demons takes the form of a lonely battle with the slugs in his yard. We also learn that domestic life can be fatal; this alcoholic neighbor’s first wife died of “heart failure. It hit her Just as she was coming up the drive” (33).

Even as Nanny’s moonlight adventure” seems as if it may be liberators, the overall feel of the story is claustrophobic, as the only escape from the domestic confinement seems to be alcoholism, potential infidelity, or death. For both Nan and Nancy, and for many of Carver’s female characters, the domestic realm is stifling, and, as Sandra Sleep demonstrates In “Women Ana Violence Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 61 in the Stories of Raymond Carver,” they find diverse ways to “communicate[e] their dissatisfaction with roles and norms prescribed to men and women” (1 13). In some of

Carver’s stories, however, marital dysfunction has more tangible causes and symptoms. The feminist issue receiving the most in-depth treatment in the late asses and asses was the subject of male violence toward women, which received particular attention on television. Although other feminist concerns about women’s relative lack of social or economic power were often treated lightly or not at all in American popular culture, this issue was brought to light so successfully by American feminists for the obvious reason that it was difficult to argue in American society at this time that domestic abuse was not an abuse of power.

For feminists, the challenge was exposing these instances of abuse; high profile trials and television programs featuring domestic abuse and rape significantly aided in this process, but so did literature which was increasingly likely to seriously treat domestic abuse. The infusion of women’s voices, both white and nonwhite, in literature and their increasing representation in academia, where women’s studies programs were taking off, certainly aided this process.

The more free-floating threat of male violence that infiltrates Carver’s stories is tied to the awareness of violence feminism helped bring o the mainstream during the asses and asses. Sleep argues that in Carver’s portraits of domestic violence, his female characters are as likely to engage in violent acts as the male characters, and in fact, their violence has a liberators subtext, as it is increasingly likely to be carried on in public in later stories and result in a transformation in the perpetrator’s life. Carver’s treatment of male violence, however, is much more ominous.

The male character’s dissatisfaction with his life and marriage in “Tell the Women We’re Going” results in Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 62 he double homicide of two random women, and the title character of “Dummy’ (renamed “The Third Thing that Killed My Father Off) avenges his wife’s betrayal and his emasculation by killing her with a hammer and then drowning himself (What We Talk about). “So Much Water So Close to Home,” arguably Carver’s most sustained treatment of a woman’s consciousness and feminist themes, has raped, mutilated women’s corpses haunting its narrative.

As the story’s narrator, Claire, reveals her own unhappiness and constraint in her marriage, she imaginatively links her marriage to society at large, in which women are objectified ND under constant threat. This story, then, links the domestic and public, or personal and political as called for by second wave feminists. Even as one can trace how contemporaneous feminist discourses permeate Carver’s stories, I argue that we need feminism to think about the vulnerable, fraught identity that he writes about. Rivers stories not only rennet Tenements Electrodes, out Temples can Nell us make sense of some of his stories, particularly those featuring working-class women’s perspectives. “Fat” is probably the most well-known of these stories, and is in some ways, the most puzzling. Narrated by an anonymous waitress, who is in turn narrating a story to her friend, Rata, “Fat’s” plot is simple; having waited on a fat man in the restaurant in which she and her husband Rudy work, the waitress returns home to serve him food and have sex, then falls asleep fantasizing that she is as large as the man she served in the restaurant.

There are a variety of critical interpretations of this story, ranging from those that emphasize the character’s thwarted attempts to find meaning or to articulate her experience, to the more literal interpretation that the waitress may actually be pregnant, something she speculates bout near the end of the story.

Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 63 Reading “Fat” with particular attention to class in addition to gender provides another perspective on the story, and the waitress’s identification with her overweight customer. As Dorothy Sue Cobble and Nancy Suffer demonstrate in their studies of working-class women and labor feminists in the asses and asses, for female workers particularly in Jobs that were sex-typed, sexual objectification on the Job was a real problem that labor feminists sought to address.

Most famous during the asses were airline stewardesses’ unions’ ultimately successful attempts to restore dignity to their jobs, and stop the airlines from selling their sex appeal along with tickets; by the asses, they had halted mandatory firing when stewardesses hit their early thirties, and presumably had lost sexual attractiveness, and a variety of other blatantly sexist and discriminatory practices (Cobble 206-11).

Implicitly, the waitress in “Fat,” and overtly, the waitress in “They’re Not Your Husband” are disemboweled as a result of their objectification. Keeping in mind that the narrator of “Fat” is a small woman who tells the fat man that he “would like to gain” but can’t, it is easy to surmise that she, like the waitress, Doreen, in “They’re Not Your Husband,” is constantly the recipient of such surveillance (7). “They’re Not Your Husband follows “Fat” in Will You Please be Quiet, Please? Y only a few pages. Instead of focusing on the waitress, Doreen, however, this story focuses on her husband and shows how his “injuries of class,” as Richard Segment and Jonathan Cob term the injuries to ego resulting from men’s social class, become an unhealthy (for both him and his wife) obsession with controlling Dodder’s odd. “[B]teen Jobs as a salesman,” Earl hears two businessmen making fun of his wife one day at the diner where she works (22).

The Joke is ultimately on him in the story, and ends with him making a Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 64 fool of himself when trying to solicit compliments about his wife’s now dieted and reach Day Trot a stranger. However, ten story, Like “Fat,” makes clear now women’s bodies, particularly working-class women’s bodies, which were at least historically more likely to be serving men in a variety of gender-specific occupations, unction as a spectacle. For all the humor in the story, it is also a pretty brutal portrayal of the cultural currency of the properly regulated female body.

Having Doreen strip naked and weigh herself at the beginning of his “project,” Earl councils her not to eat for “a few days, anyway,” and calls her a “slob” when, in between her job and caring for their children, she slips and eats a meal (25, 26). While the waitress in “Fat” also struggles with her weight, although gaining rather than losing is her focus, Carver makes it clear that she is also both objectified and roles with Rudy at home, who has sex with her “against her will” at the end of the story (7,8). In “Fat,” however, the waitress’s story transfers the phenomenon of the body as spectacle to a male body, that of the customer.

Unlike the body of Doreen in “They’re Not Your Husband,” with its “girdle, and pink, thighs that were rumpled and gray and a little hairy, and veins that spread in a berserk display,” the male customer’s body in “Fat” is depicted as grotesque display (23). The waitress’s fascination with the customer is a result of her relating to him; throughout the story, he does not say what she meaner or feels, like the customer, and she is also unhappy with her own body and imagines at the end, while Rudy is having sex with her, that she is “terrifically fat” like the customer.

Although there is a moment when this seems in the story as if it may be a liberators fantasy, the waitress’s depression after telling the story signals something much different. Her story about the fat man is actually a story about herself, herself as relatively Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 65 powerless spectacle; this is why she “won’t go into it with [Rata] and feels that she has already told her too much” (8).

Like her customer, and like working-class women in the popular imagination in general, the waitress of “Fat” is both overbidding and denied a real presence at once, both in her personal life and on the Job; in fact, she is not even named in the story. While her story seems to provide her with insight into her own life, if her life is really “going to change,” she will have to change it through the kind of Job and personal action feminism called for in the asses. Although there is no overt reference to political action in “Fat,” she realizes the futility of “waiting,” like her friend Rata; Waiting for what? He wants to know’ (8). However, society will also have to change. The kind of powerlessness the customer reveals, saying “there is no choice” but to continue eating, she can also relate to (7). Even as she demonstrates her impatience for change, there is only so much a woman with limited social and economic capital can do to change the circumstances of her life. A pregnancy, an option toyed with by her as a possibility for increased girth and maybe clout in her life, would only tie her more irrevocably to Rudy and her Job.

Like the waitress in “Fat,” Carver’s female harassers are often in unsatisfying relationships. However, he portrays them as being anything but passive victims, showing a strength, introspection and creativity rarely seen In ten Internment representations AT working-class women In American culture, and until very recently, in mainstream representations of women. In “Fat,” the waitress’s husband, Rudy, makes crude Jokes at the customer’s expense and those of other fat kids he used to tease, but the waitress empathic with the customer and tries to understand the significance of their encounter. In “They’re Not Your

Husband,” Earl’s solipsism makes him both callous toward his Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 66 wife and the butt of a Joke of his own making, as well as of Carver’s story. His female characters’ ability to empathic and connect with others is a big source of their strength. This is true for both his working-class and more middle-class female characters. In “So Much Water so Close to Home,” the female protagonist’s ability to imaginatively relate to a drowned woman enables her to see how her own adherence to traditional gender roles is causing her to live a kind of death in life.

So Much Water So Close to Home” was obviously an important story for Carver, and the one he most frequently re-published, appearing in collections spanning the asses and the asses: Furious Seasons (1977), What We Talk about When We Talk about Love (1982), Fires (1983), and Where I’m Calling From (1988). With the exception of the much shorter version in what We Talk about When We Talk about Love, Carver made only minor revisions in republications of the story.

Like so many of Carver’s stories, “So Much Water So Close to Home” contains a distressed marriage and a protagonist who mess paralyzed and unable to really alter her circumstances. Remarkable in this story, however, is Carver’s development of the protagonist, as well as the intricate layering of social, cultural, and psychological issues. In addition to its length (twenty pages) and remarkable character development, the story frankly documents the crisis and its effects on the protagonist.

With the exception of its dramatically compressed version in What We Talk about When We Talk about Love,” “So Much Water So Close to Home” is one of Carver’s least minimalist, and best, stories, a conclusion in which he keel concurred given its publishing history. 4 “So Much Water So Close to Home” reveals an extreme masculine callousness toward women. The episode the story revolves around is a biannual fishing trip of the Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 67 protagonist’s husband and three other men, and is narrated through the perspective of Claire Kane, the story first-person narrator.

After hiking to their campsite and setting up camp, the men discover a “girl floating face down in the river, nude, lodged near the shore against the branches” (43). Instead of immediately hiking back to violation and getting help, the men, pleading “fatigue, the late hour, the fact that the girl Wasn’t going anywhere,” decide to do nothing until later that night, though they “thought they should do something to keep the body from floating away’ (43).

Claire imagines this event as a symbolic rape, as the men bind the girl’s body to snore Walt a “nylon core Ana ogle nerd corpse (43) Tater two clays AT rolling, telling “coarse stories” and tales of Millard or dishonest escapades out of their past” as well as fishing and washing dishes near the girl’s body, the men decide to return home 44). When they return to civilization, they alert the police of their finding. Stuart returns home late at night, has sex with Claire, then tells her of the events the following morning, when they are receiving outraged calls concerning the men’s failure to report their finding earlier.

When Claire discovers what has happened, she first wants assurance that it didn’t really happen the way the newspaper explains, and responds with shock when she discovers that it has. The rest of the story’s plot revolves around her attempts to make sense of her husband’s actions and his attempts to make her let it go, to forget his complicity in the episode, in the form of pleading, menacing, and sexual coercion. Carver frames the questions about gender, violence and responsibility the story raises through Claimer’s consciousness since her experiences sensitizes her to connections Stuart is incapable of making.

As she reveals in her story of two brothers who killed and dismembered a girl in her hometown, Claire grew up hearing horrific tales of male Vanessa Hall: Influences of Feminism and Class 68 violence toward women, as did many American women in the asses and asses (47). The biggest internal struggle Claire faces is whether to pursue these connections, or, as Stuart wills her, to put it “out of sight, out of mind, etc. , and ‘go on” (42).

What is “at store” is her marriage, but, we find out, she cannot let herself be as passive as that would require; passivity and detachment inspire pity for her husband in the story: “l pity him for listening, detached, and then settling back. He can never know how much I pity him for that, for sitting still and listening, and letting the smoke stream out of his mouth” (42). Claimer’s initial attempts to suppress her meditation on the meaning of the fishing vents repeatedly fail as she begins to make connections between this event and parts of her marriage that have troubled her.

Carver implicitly references several key feminist texts in this story. The descriptions of middle-class housewife’s Claimer’s feelings of powerlessness and ennui recall Betty Friedman’s The Feminine Mystique. Claire describes her days: “Sometimes she spends the whole morning on her knees in the sandbox behind the garage playing with Dean (her son) and one or two of his friends. But every afternoon at four o’clock her head begins to hurt” (50). This section rallies Friedman’s discussion both of the unfailing nature of full-time domestic work and the physiological distress that can accompany psychological distress.

In The Feminine Mystique, the symptoms are tiredness and depression, in “So Much Water So Close to Home,” they are headaches and a feeling of dissociation from herself, revealed in Claimer’s discussion of her “unclear” past and her numbed present (49). She describes herself as being unaware of her actions, shaking her head “stupidly, stupidly’ as if she really is in some kind of semi comatose state (41). She sees a doctor for her headaches, who recommends that she stay at an

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