Disjunction Vs. Communion In Raymond Carvers Short Essay

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Disjunction Vs. Communion In Raymond Carvers Short Stories

Disjunction vs. Communion in Raymond Carver's Short Stories

Raymond Carver, poet, essayist, and short story writer, was very
different from some other writers in that he clipped his writing until only the
essential remained. " Carver not only acknowledged the effect that fiction
could have on readers, he proclaimed that it should affect readers."( Bonetti
58) Thus, when Carver writes about intimate relationships, the reader perceives
the stories as more than entertainment or skillful language; the reader relates
to the characters' situations and applies the knowledge to their own lives. It
is within this realm of character affirmation that Carver draws a much more
elaborate, and meaningful detail in his short stories. I propose that Carver's
characters either connect or fail to connect on an intimate, spiritual level.
It is this difference in his short stories which either draw the reader into or
away from the meaning. These relations make certain writings in Carver's stories
more interesting.
More directly, it is the communion in his later writings, and the
disjunction in his earlier writings, that distinguish the two types of styles.
Communion within the characters of Carver's later writings, as in his
collections in Cathedral, create much more depth and interest in his stories.
It is within this scope of communion that Carver's stories seem to become more
fulfilling with character affirmation.
Communion occurs in Carver's stories when several conditions are
satisfied. The difference in the two criteria; communion and disjunction, is
simply defined. "Communion, n 1. A sharing of thoughts or feelings 2. a A
religious or spiritual fellowship." (Websters, 141) It is a connection
between characters which allows them to transcend the ordinary and redefine
themselves. A moment in which words, actions, and objects take on exaggerated
significance . Carver uses this bond between characters in his later writings
more directly, such as in his anthology Cathedral. You must first initialize
an intimate interaction between two or more characters who can communicate---
either verbally or physically. If an individual is still projecting his/her
personality onto another, that individual has not experienced the loss of self-
awareness which is necessary for communion. Another important element for this
experience is touch. The characters who gain understanding of each other, touch
on ano ther. It is within these guidelines that I find Carvers stories to be
more interesting.
Disjointed on the other hand is near similarity in communion, in that it
contains the seed of communion which failed to grow. The protagonist achieves
some measure of success only to falter. Disjunction occurs when an opportunity
exists for the characters to change their lives in a small, spiritual way, and
they are unable to seize it. Even with the spiritual isolation that many of
Carvers characters hold, disjunction blocks me from the stories in that it
leaves me unfulfilled, distracts me from the main point. The transgression of
characters within stories, gives reader a greater insight into a spiritual
change of some sort, the lack thereof leaves something missing in the story. A
more influential meaning is gained when a connection of some sort is maid
between characters. As Carver said in a interview later in his life," In
fiction that matters the signifigance of the action inside the story translates
to the lives of the people out side the story" ( Davis 658)
Carver's life, or biography, bares a little insight into his phases, or
different stages in which he wrote his different types of stories and poems.
Carver lived most of his life in a world which could not provide the luxury of
spiritual affirmation. He grew up in Clatskanie, Oregon to working class-
parents in a alcoholic home where reading material was limited to Zane Gray
novels, and the newspaper. Following high school, Carver married his pregnant
high school sweet hart. His drinking became heavier. A list of meaningless
jobs followed , in which writing only provided a emotional outlet. During this
time, Carver's hard life may have instigated the disjunction he portrayed in
his earlier writings. Poverty and family problems continually interrupted his
work. Carver was constantly broke, filled for bankruptcy twice, and was fired
from his white collar job as a result of alcoholism. In 1977 he received a
National Book award nomination and had several stories published in various
magazines and book presses.
After 1977, when he met his second wife, Carver stopped drinking. This
is when his stories of disjunction become more developed. He published several
collections including What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. In May of
1983, Knopf published Cathedral, Carvers third major book of short stories.
This is where communion is illustrated in its more explicate form.
Unfortunately, due to poor health Carver could not further communion in his
writings, he became to sick to write. In the fall of 1987 doctors diagnosed
cancer and removed two-thirds of his left lung, later the cancer moved to his
brain where he underwent chemotherapy treatments. In early June, the cancer
reappeared. On August 2, 1988 Raymond Carver died in his new house in Port
Angeles, Washington. In an interview with critic William Stull, he explains
about a connection between fiction and reality.
I'm interested in the personal intimate relationships in life so why not
deal with these relationships in literature?…little experiences are important
underpinnings in our daily lives…They are, after all, something that we all
share—as readers, writers, and human beings…I don't think there should be any
barriers, artificial or otherwise, between life and it's written about. (Stull,
" Matters" 180)
The major task of my argument is to explain the reasons I feel Communion
is more significant. Similarly mentioned above, communion occurred later in
Carvers life therefore most of my argument shall be identifying with such
stories as " The Bridle " and " Cathedral" which seem to illustrate communion
in its most explicit form. Carvers earlier writings cope with disjunction in
various collections, such as in " Gazebo" and "Sacks", yet not all seem to
exemplify disjunction totally. Disjunction personifies a empty shell in the
characters, both spiritually and intimately.
Communion; oppositely, entices the reading, it shares a " communion "
between reader and character.

Disjunction occurs only when an opportunity exists for a change in a
character's life in a small, spiritual way, and they are unable to seize it.
Many of the characters in earlier writings cannot seize spiritual affirmation
because they cannot escape their isolation. This isolation creates a barrier
against the readers interaction within the story. Thus, at the moment of
disjunction they remain spiritually unchanged, provoking a loss in interaction
between reader and story. The underlying reason for a character's failure is
usually an inability to articulate the desire to change. The end result of this
lack of intimacy is that the characters exist like shells, without any care into
their own lives or relationships with others. This emptiness leaves the reader
coming up empty handed when seeking the motivation to pursue the story.
The story " Gazebo", from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk
About Love, contains a excellent example of disjunction. The story opens in a
motel suite, where the two main characters Duane and Holly, are drinking alcohol
and hashing out their marital problems. They end up generally stop caring for
one another and realize their " days are numbered, " both as hotel managers and
as a married couple. In the last few paragraphs, the couple decide the fate of
their marriage. Disjunction occurs when Duane attempts to convince Holly that
they have fond memories of the hotel. Holly does not respond because she has
surrendered hope of changing their circumstances. " I pray for a sign from
Holly. I pray for Holly to show me."(29) Paralyzed, Duane desperately wants to
communicate with his wife. Although he prays, it is not a spiritual connection
between God. Holly's desire to leave for Nevada comes full circle as the lack
of communication between the two is dissolved.
The characters illustrate disjunction by creating a barrier to
communicate their needs and feelings in a way which would results in a greater
mutual understanding and true sympathy. The disjunction leaves the reader very
distant from the story in that he/she cannot identify the exact problem in the
verbal gap. This lack of connection between characters transcends a sense of
frustration to interact within the story. A direct connection within characters
personifies the attention and interest one may feel within a story.
Disjunction leaves the story unfulfilled, so that when finished the reader feels
cheated not knowing the exact fate. Carver's mastering writings skills treat
this evidence of disjunction skillfully, yet the emptiness in the interaction
between characters leaves something missing from his earlier stories using this
method of theme.
Another example of disjunction lies between the characters in " Sacks",
from What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The disjunction in this story
really creates a sense of frustration for the reader. The story deals with the
relationship between a father and son following the fathers divorce. Les
arranges to meet his father at a airport on his way to San Francisco, the two
haven't " talked " in some time. Consumed by shame and guilt, the father tells
his son about a affair he had years before.
I'll tell you, Les. I'll tell you what's the most important thing
involved here. You see, there are things. More important things than your mother
leaving me. Now, you listen to this…So there I am, almost naked with my clothes
in my hand, and Larry is opening the front door" ( What We Talk About When We
Talk About Love 44)
Les's father commands his son to listen, but Les cannot and will not.
Les ignores his father's pleas for understanding and companionship. This lack
of respect gives the story little felt sympathy for either character, especially
for Les in his situation. This barrier between the two transcends to the
reader's frustration he/she may place on either character, hence sheltering them
from the stories context. The communication gap personifies the notion of a
distance in the relationship. This distance between the two pushes the reader
from the story, destroying the felt compassion the father character may be
searching for. Les has rejected his fathers pleas both literally and
figuratively. Thus, the opportunity for communication and communion is lost.
The story ends, in my opinion, not with a bang but with a whimper, a hasty
retreat, a failure to connect. The disjunction can be interpreted to play a
major role in Carver's meaning within such a story. The contribution he gives
to the story is to personify a very flat character relationship. This method
to draw in the reader seems very ordinary and plain, it lacks the intermingling
that touched characters project within a story.


Later in Carvers writings he began to explore with communion, a
spiritual and emotional bond which results when individuals communicate and
reach a conscious understanding of one another. Carvers characters reach
communion as a spiritual reward for their suffering. Communion becomes more
evident in the collection of short stories Cathedral. The characters in the
communal stories achieve flow experiences as a result of one constant element:
communication, verbal and nonverbal. Touch is important because it presents
concrete evidence of a spiritual and emotional connection. It is within this
scope, and demand in writing that Carvers stories really draw the reader within
the world of the story. A much deeper emotional feeling is felt when a
connection amongst the characters is reached.
The story, " The Bridle" uses touch to instigate verbal communication.
The story unveils as a woman and her family rent a apartment from Marge, and her
husband, Harley. Betty, the tenant pays with crisp bills, which Marge
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