Raymond Carver’s Short Story “Popular Mechanics” Analysis

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Good Dad, Bad Dad?

Writing a short story is like writing 5 stories in one, because the writer leaves gaps in the story that the reader will subconsciously fill in. Because of that the story will be very different from one reader’s perspective to the next. In Raymond Carver’s short story “Popular Mechanics,” there is no clear ending. He also makes the story pretty vague by leaving out quotation marks, not telling the reader who is saying what, giving no background, and only allowing each character to say a few words at a time. The story as whole leads up to the ambiguous ending that leaves each reader with their own interpretation of what Carver’s story is actually about. Carver lets the reader take the story into their own hands from the very beginning by permitting the reader to naturally decide who is really at fault for the family falling apart. The biggest debate about how the story ends is by these two sentences Carver surprises us with at the end, “He felt the baby slipping out of his hands and he pulled back very hard. In this manner the issue was decided.”

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Some may say that the baby was being pulled on by both parents and eventually the baby’s arm is ripped off, then deciding who keeps the baby. However, I could not disagree more. I believe that when Carver writes that the father pulls back very hard, he is saying the father lets go of the baby and pulls himself out of the fight. Therefore, I will argue that the father is the better parent and spouse in Carver’s “Popular Mechanics.” I will back up my opinion to you by looking more in depth on Carver’s writing style and filling in his gaps with clues from the text and other stories that Carver’s is based around. Carver also uses everyone’s own life, and experiences to differ your view on his story. When I first read Carver’s short story I compared it to a bible story I heard as a kid. The story is found in 1 Kings, where two single women live together with their own infant sons, came to King Solomon for judgment. One woman claimed that the other had accidentally smothered her own son and switched the babies to make it appear the living one was hers. The woman obviously denied this, therefore both women claim the same boy as their own son.

King Solomon, who was blessed with wisdom from God, brought in a sword and proclaimed he would split the baby in two so both women could have half of him. In response to this solution one mother cried out in agony and said the other woman could take the baby as long as no harm came to him. The other woman fully supported King Solomon’s solution and thought it was fair. The king then declared the first woman as the real mother and gave her back her son. “Popular Mechanics” reminds me of this bible story because of the father’s actions at the end. As Solomon was unsure who the real mother was until he put them to the test, we don’t know who the concerned, protective parent is till they go through a test as well. Maybe it isn’t until we are faced with losing what we love that we find out how much we love it. In the beginning and part of the middle of “Popular Mechanics” it is unclear which parent deserves and truly wants the baby for the right reasons. But, when the wife pulls on the baby’s arm the father has a choice to either pull back, which could potentially injury the baby, or he could just let go. Thus, giving the mother the baby and ultimately saving the baby from harm. The father chooses to let go and give the mother the baby. By comparing these stories it’s obvious the father is the ‘real parent.’ Every story written in the bible is there for us to read and learn from not just enjoy. So what does the story in 1 Kings teach us? Maybe to show us people are crazy and don’t care who they hurt, physical or mentally, as long as they get what they want.

The mother in Carver’s story was being selfish and if you’re selfish can you really, truly love another? Carver’s writing technique doesn’t push the reader’s opinion one way or the other because he leaves so many open gaps. But, if you look more in depth, more insight is given to the story. The story starts with Carver describing the view from the small window that is hard to see through. Through the tiny window we see its dark outside as well as inside. I see this as a metaphor of the lack of insight Carver gives on the relationship of the couple. We, the readers, come in at the end of their relationship with the husband packing his things to leave his wife. At this time she is yelling out how happy she is that he is finally leaving, and how much better off she will be without him. To this the man says nothing, just keeps packing. The conversation shows me that the woman is more out spoken and dramatic, if you look at the punctuation she has exclamation marks at the end of almost everything she says. On the other hand, the man has periods and commas whenever he decides to add to the conversation, which is rarely. This gives us the feeling that he is calm while she is hysteric. The fight soon escalates and gets a little physical.

As the mother holds the baby away from the father he tries to pry the baby out of her grasp, but she is determined not to let go of this baby. During this fight a flower pot gets knocked over, why would Carver waste such valuable space if the sentence was irrelevant? I believe the breaking of the pot symbolizes the breaking of the relationship. The flower is a living thing protected by the pot which is now broken, just as the relationship is. Therefore, the baby (the living thing) isn’t protected anymore. First off, let me get the point out there that due to Carver’s writing style and techniques he doesn’t ‘make’ the characters, the reader does. Carver leaves the characters open for judgment ultimately letting us, as the readers, decide who they really are. He is able to do this by not giving us much information to go off of in the beginning and by not explaining the end and what actually happens. It is also based on our perception of the situation, the conflicts and how we personally feel about mothers and fathers. We don’t have a background story on each individual or even their relationship and what they are fighting about. This causes us to subconsciously fill in the pieces while we read the story. Starting our opinion of both characters from the very beginning of the story will leave us with more drastic variations of the story from one reader’s point of view to the others. When someone really loves and cares for you it’s easy to tell that their love is real and sincere by their actions. How people treat you shows more love than any words they could string together into a beautiful sentence to make you feel loved. In Carver’s story the mother doesn’t show any actions of love to the baby, just hatred towards her husband. The father shows no emotion to the woman, but so much love to the child. The only item the author mentions he packs is a picture of the baby, and when the wife takes the baby he tries to gently get it back from her. But when things get dangerous he doesn’t just think about himself anymore, he shows his love to the baby by putting the baby over his own desires.

What exactly makes a parent good or bad? They aren’t labeled by how many mistakes they make or how their kid turns out. But by how much they love and care for their child. That all a kid wants, is to know that they are loved and that at least one person will always be there for them. For all of the above reasons I stand on my belief that the father was the good man and did what he did to protect his child. I can dissect his story and interpret it however I think is right, but in the end what you think of each character is up to you and how you make each character. Hopefully after you have read my paper and see my points you will agree with me. Or at least believe that it is a very plausible outcome, as well as your own. I realize that when people read this they could completely disagree with me and think there is only one way to look at Carver’s “Popular Mechanics” and this is not it! Everyone thinks differently and is entitled to their own opinion. But everyone should at least have an open mind to alternate ending that their peers believe to be the real ending.

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Raymond Carver’s Short Story “Popular Mechanics” Analysis. (2016, Jul 21). Retrieved from


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