A Serious Talk by Raymond Carver Short Summary

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Raymond Carver’s short story A Serious Talk portrays a broken relationship between Burt and Vera. The story uses a cigarette and a dirty ashtray found at Vera’s house to symbolize the deteriorating state of their relationship. Burt’s attempts to fix the relationship are compared to smoking a cigarette, which ultimately leads to burnt remains. Like the lighting up of a cigarette, a relationship starts with passion but can become unhealthy. The ashtray holds a special meaning to Burt and Vera, but their relationship is burnt out and at its end. Burt’s hopes for a fresh start with Vera through a Serious Talk are unsuccessful, and their relationship remains stuck in an unhealthy cycle.

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Butting Out Scorched and burned with nothing left but cold ash, Raymond Carver`s short story, “A Serious Talk” is that of an empty, broken relationship. The relationship between Burt and Vera could be compared to the way in which Burt smokes his cigarette and deals with a dirty ashtray, found at Vera`s house containing cigarette butts of Vera`s and those of someone else. This cigarette and ashtray could symbolize how the relationship between Burt and Vera has deteriorated to a lifeless point. Burt`s attempts to fix the relationship are similar to the process of smoking a cigarette.

A spark and flame ignites both a relationship and cigarette. What`s left is the finished unhealthy and burnt remains. This then leads to Burt’s attempt to fix the relationship and clean the ashtray, and a cycle that repeats itself, with Bert grinding another dirty cigarette butt into the ashtray. Like the lighting up of a cigarette, a relationship starts with a spark, ignites, burns with passion that fans the flames of true romance. It is clear that Burt and Vera`s relationship has become unhealthy. Smokers crave cigarettes.

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They light up time and again; seeking fulfillment but many smokers develop long-term health problems. “I’m smoking three packs a day” (pg. 126), Vera said. The ashtray holds a special meaning to better times for them. “Please”, she said. “That’s our ashtray” (pg. 127), when Burt was thinking of throwing it. The dirty ash tray was full of burnt, finished cigarette butts. The relationship between Vera and Burt is also burnt out and at its end. “He got up and dumped it all under the sink. He rinsed it out and dried it. He put it back on the table. And grounded out his cigarette in it. ” (pg. 125).

This could be compared to Burt hopes his efforts will improve their relationship by having “A Serious Talk”. Burt was not able to achieve this or a fresh start with Vera. There seems to be little left in the relationship. The cleaned out ashtray, only cycles back to the dirty, unhealthy state that it had previously been in. “A Serious Talk” is what Burt believes is required to help rebuild this relationship. Burt is incapable to do this. The relationship between Burt and Vera is stuck in an unhealthy cycle, a lot like the unhealthy cycle cigarette smokers go through with their filthy habit.

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A Serious Talk by Raymond Carver Short Summary. (2018, Mar 14). Retrieved from


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