Marriage in “Popular Mechanics” by Raymond Carver


The author’s desire to convey topical and vital issues of modern society is often one of the primary goals of literature. The ability to reflect the problem as sharply and clearly as possible is an indicator of the writer’s talent, and if readers can appreciate the creative message of a particular work, the chance that a specific paper will be famous is high. At the same time, it is possible to reflect an actual social problem not only in works of a large format. Sometimes, small stories can convey the emotions and feelings of a specific situation and bring the essence of the conflict in such a way that the reader does not have any questions or controversial points about what has been read. As an example, it is possible to take one of the short papers known to fans of such a writer as Raymond Carver. “Popular Mechanics” by Carver is a story full of realism that uses the social issue of marriage problems to argue that quarreling in the family can harm both parents and children. The author does this by using figurative language, vivid images, and construction of phrases.

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Figurative Language

A special effect of the story is achieved due to a very vivid and lively vocabulary that the author uses. This technique is quite efficient since the work of this format, which would be written in an ordinary or formal language, could hardly arouse public interest and convey the author’s idea. Perhaps, a specific speech and dialogues that he uses in his story provide the most convincing effect. These peculiarities are instruments that are successfully implemented by the author and used to create a specific mood.

Author’s Arguments

The whole Carver’s story is permeated with frequently used conversational constructions, for example, “are you crazy?” or “for God’s sake!” (69). It is done to emphasize the quarrel between young parents and to show how far they are from each other and how angry they are. In those families where spouses divorce, conflicts are very acute quite often, and children can witness these quarrels (Emery). The tenser the situation in the story becomes, the more emotional the dialogues are, and it is evident from the exclamation marks that Carver uses: “Getaway, getaway!” (69). The story’s culmination also has definite emotional overtones.

Personal Arguments

If the lexicon of the story were different, the effect would hardly have turned out so strong, and the work would not have been appreciated by critics and readers. Sharp and sometimes frankly rude words are probably one of the few ways to show that both parents hate each other. It is quite evident that it is not the first quarrel that arises between the man and the woman. Rough words about each other further strengthen their anger. According to Browder, “everyone deserves a right to be heard and to be treated with respect as another human being” (5). Accordingly, the stronger the characters are angry with each other, the more likely that the outcome of the conflict will be adverse. Despite the fact that the ending of the story is not clear enough, the reader can guess that the parents will not be on good terms.

Vivid Images

To show the reader the drama within one short story, it is not enough to use a particular vocabulary. If characters’ images are unclear, there is a risk that the manners of those or other participants will be utterly incomprehensible, and even their speech will not help. Therefore, the author tries to animate his characters, doing it through literary coloring.

Author’s Arguments

One of the techniques Carver uses in his small work is vivid characters, in particular, all members of the same family (68). The fact that the author does not mention their names is rather unusual; he uses only personal pronouns – he, she, him, her, etc. Despite this lack of information concerning the characters, the reader can easily understand that it is about a man and a woman who conflict and, probably, at the stage of divorce. Moreover, the author accompanies his narrative with emotional verbs – “picked up,” “tightened his hands,” “screaming,” “gripped,” etc. (69). The characters themselves are quite distinguishable; the man, for example, looks cold-blooded, but he feels agitated, and the woman is worried and is close to hysterics. Champion remarks that in most of Carver’s stories, the topic of alcohol is frequently used (24). Perhaps, the characters of “Popular Mechanics” or at least one of them was also not sober

Personal Arguments

While looking at the characteristics of the paper, it is possible to see that Carver does not seek to make the reader understand the situation better. The author tries to describe his characters as brightly as possible so that the overall picture of the conflict to be noticeable and uses a typical view to show a family conflict (Carver 68). The task of the reader is not to find a relationship with common types of behavior but to see how Carver uses a limited scope to reflect the quarrel between the man and the woman. It could probably be achieved with the help of verbal statements. However, the author was able to accurately convey the character’s nature and reveal their common aspects: the perseverance and composure of the man, as well as the inflexibility and strength of the woman.

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Construction of Phrases

To convey to readers a specific idea, it is possible to resort to not only images but also a special structure of the text. Thus, Carver’s story is rather short and is not complicated. Nevertheless, the author uses his volume quite successfully due to the structure of the sentences.

Author’s Arguments

The effect of Carver’s phrase structure is noticeable. The author does not use long and detailed sentences but, on the contrary, resorts to short constructions – “Don’t!,” “Let go of him,” “She would have it,” “But he would not let go,” etc. (69). Despite Stephen King’s note that “until mid-1977, Raymond Carver was out of control,” the author of “Popular Mechanics” managed to create a laconic and brief story that, however, was full of details. A specific type of phrases that were not extended, mostly with subjects and predicates, helped him to write the story with maximum information.

Personal Arguments

The story called “Popular Mechanics” is possibly one of the most vivid examples of the author’s talent to write as accurately and concisely as possible. Along with the characters’ images, the reader can easily guess the basic motive of the conflict and conclude about who is right or wrong in this or that situation. The structure of all the phrases is to emphasize the seriousness of the situation between the characters and to indicate their coldness and fury to each other. The predominant number of short replicas pertains to the child, which makes him the key character.


Thus, “Popular Mechanics” by Carver is a story full of realism that uses the social issue of marriage problems to argue that quarreling in the family can harm both parents and children. The author managed to fully reveal his idea. The whole story is proof of Carver’s talent to describe a problematic situation precisely. The techniques used by the author are successful tools that help the reader to understand the main issues.

Works Cited

Browder, Lew. “Parents Without Partners: One of the Best Teachers I’ve Ever Had.” Single Parent, vol. 38, no. 4, 1995, pp. 4-5.

Carver, Raymond. “Popular Mechanics.” Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories, edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas, Gibbs Smith, 1986, pp. 68-69.

Champion, Laurie. Literary Contexts in Short Stories: Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.” Literary Contexts in Poetry & Short Stories, 2006.

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Emery, Robert E. “How Divorced Parents Lost Their Rights.” The New York Times, 2014, Web.

King, Stephen. “Raymond Carver’s Life and Stories.” The New York Times, 2009, Web.

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