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Essay/Term paper: Carver's "boxes": something is not right

Essay, term paper, research paper:  World Literature

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Carver's "Boxes": Something is Not Right

Have you ever had that eerie feeling in the back of your mind that
something just is not right? It is as if there is some unknown reason that a
situation has a different meaning then what is obvious. This feeling is the
disguised backbone of Raymond Carver's story, "Boxes". In this story the son
seems to be experiencing this feeling as his mother decides to move again.
There are gaps in the story line which shows that the son's dialog does not
match up with his thoughts throughout the situation. These gaps highlight a
hidden theme that associates the son's feelings about his mother moving with her
One of the reasons the son unconsciously believes he will never see his
mother again, is because his mother mentions more than once in the story that
she would like to die. These gaps in the story where the mother mentions dying
in the same scenes that have to do with her moving associates her moving with
her death. One instance that she mentions dying is where she is complaining
about the weather in Longview: "I mean it, honey. I don't want to see this
place again except from my coffin. I hate this g.d. place. I don't know why I
moved here. I wish I could just die and get it over with" (p. 413). I do not
think the son believes she really wants to die but she puts the idea of her
dying in his subconscious. There is a gap at that point that is up to the
reader to figure out. The gap is widened farther in that same scene. The son
remembers thinking about a man working on a power line. The man leaned out
supported only by a safety belt and the son thought about if the man fell. The
son is still on the phone with his mother: "I didn't have any idea what I was
going to say next. I had to say something. But I was filled with unworthy
feelings, thoughts no son should admit to. 'You're my mother,' I said finally.
'What can I do to help?'" (p. 413). What were these thoughts? Why doesn't the
narrator tell us? The son cannot help being affected by these powerful words of
his mother. This gap in the story is important because the son is thinking
about how that man working on the pole could easily die if his safety belt does
not hold. At this point he also has unmentionable thoughts about his mother.
Because of this gap, the reader can assume that these thoughts concern his
mother dying. Because his mother mentions death, he starts thinking about her
dying which continues through the rest of the story.
There were apparent gaps again later in the story when her son becomes
upset when discussing her moving and his mother says: "I wish I could die and
get out of everyone's way". (p. 421) Again she brings up the topic of her dying.
We do not know why he was upset or exactly why she wants to die but we find it
is connected to her moving back to California. What is also important is that
she says this in response to him getting upset. If for some reason he never saw
her again, it would stay with his conscious that she had felt this way because
of his actions.
At the last dinner that the son eats with his mother, it really hits him
that she is leaving. He realizes he cannot stop her and that this may be the
last time he sees her: "I understand that after she leaves I'm probably never
going to see her again" (p. 421). This passage opens up the son's mind to us
because if he believed that she was just moving then he would not be convinced
that he would never see her again. The gap caused by this passage shows that
the son thinks he will never see her again even though she is supposedly just
The son is convinced by the scene where his mother leaves: "Two days
later, early in the morning. I say good-bye to mother for what may be the last
time" (p. 422). For the son, this is a very powerful moment. It is like
watching someone die, without being able to do anything about it. His mother
has made up her mind and he cannot do anything to change it. It is not as if he
consciously knows he will never see her again; in that case he could tell her
why she can not leave. It is just an awful gut feeling.
This gut feeling is less obvious in other scenes of the story which make
it more important. As the mother leaves that morning for her trip back to
California, the son notices her appearance: My mother holds my arm as I walk
her down the steps to the driveway and open the car door for her. She is
wearing white slacks and a white blouse and white sandals. Her hair is pulled
back and tied with a scarf. That's white, too. The white color the mother is
wearing signifies heaven. Angels and God are always known to wear white and so
it is associated with heaven. The narrator includes this because it associates
her leaving with going to heaven. Still, the son does not know for sure that he
will never see her again, it is just an eerie feeling which we are aware of
because of the gaps in the story.
These hidden meanings in the story which come from the gaps, make up the
true meaning of "Boxes". The character's dialog indirectly tells us what they
are thinking. The part of the story when Jill, the son's wife, supports the
mother's decision, clearly shows the relation between the mother's moving with
her death: "I hope you have a safe trip back and you find the place you're
looking for at the end of the road" (p. 418) We, as readers, are supposed to
believe that Jill meant at the end of her road trip but, we are also supposed to
recognize this as a reference to the mother's death from Carver.
These gaps in the story are not careless errors by the author. Raymond
Carver placed these in the story on purpose to give the reader a sense of seeing
what is not there. By leaving gaps we get a similar feeling to the son in the
story. We realize that the reason he will probably never see her again after
she moves is because Carver leads us to know that her moving is associated with
her death. Without the narrator ever saying "The son will never see his mother
again because she is going to die", we still get that from the text. This fits
with Carver's style of writing because the reader can never tell until the end
of the story what the meaning is. In the case of "Boxes", the reader must read
through the story and pick up on these gaps and what they mean before piecing
together what Carver is trying to accomplish.


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