Third-person objective narration in Raymond Carver’s short story “Popular Mechanics” gives the reader distance from the characters and allows the reader’s imagination to shine through. The story itself provides little detail and ambiguity between dialogue and action, thereby demonstrating the lack of identity of the characters and the universality of the story. Indeed, the complete lack of exposition or setting-up of the plot leaves the reader in the middle of the story when it starts – actually, all of “Popular Mechanics” is action with no before or after.
Not only does this show the commonality of the experiences in the short story, but the action of the story also shows how difficult it is for people to go through a divorce, and also how separating parents often use their children as ammunition against one another during times in which they are going through relationship drama. Since the story is so broad, it shows that fights in relationships, some of which can be both physical and verbal and often dependent on using children as weapons, are common and can occur among anyone.
Primarily, the narrator gives little to no detail about anything throughout “Popular Mechanics,” allowing the story to be more universal and showcase the troubles of parental fights on children as it occurs across the country. In fact, the greatest detail is in the first paragraph when the narrator describes the weather. Not only is this not a terribly significant place to provide detail, especially in a story that has a plot that revolves around a tragic relationship and a violent struggle over a young child, but the weather also sets the tone for the rest of the story.
Indeed, the weather heavily foreshadows the rest of the story when Carver writes, “But it was getting dark on the inside too. ” Not only is this about as specific as this story gets, but it also alludes to the coming challenges in the relationships between the two unnamed characters over their relationship and their child. Nothing else is said about the setting of the story, thereby forcing the reader to place the coming conflict in a location and time period: indeed, this story could take place anywhere in the world and at any time.
Because of this, there is an element of universality to this story – because of the lack of detail and the broad generality of the subject matter, there is nothing tying this story to any specifics or concrete ideas. Because of this, the reader understands that these types of situations are pervasive in relationships, and that the generality of the fight and struggle in “Popular Mechanics” is applicable to many relationships in the world, especially in the violent uses of children in the story.
Further, because there is no exposition or context for this story, even less can be attributed to its characters, thereby allowing the child abuse to be even more attributable to universal characteristics. Generally, stories have a set-up – you receive information in some form or the other in order to understand the situation before the primary plot action occurs. Here, though, that is not the case. The closest thing to a set-up of this story is “He was in the bedroom pushing clothes into a suitcase when she came to the door.
I’m glad you’re leaving! I’m glad you’re leaving! she said. Do you hear? ” which is an extremely quick introduction to the conflict of the story. Indeed, neither the man’s nor the woman’s names are given, and their beginning in this story is a fight. The reader never sees what leads up to the fight, what their lives were like before the fight ever occurred, or who is right in the situation. Actually, either the man or the woman could have more justification for their actions in this story, but the reader cannot know that.
Because of this, the reader must form arbitrary associations and opinions about these people they actually know nothing about. Through this, we see that conflicts in relationships and the use of children in these conflicts can be associated with many different couples. Another way that Carver forces his readers to create their own visions of the story is through his lack of descriptions for the characters that actually use their child as a weapon. Nothing is known about either of them: not only do they not have names, but they have no understandable characteristics or personality qualities.
However, they each take enough action that a reader could identify with one character more than the other, or could view a certain character in a particular way. Indeed, the male desperately wants to get control of the baby, and even goes as far as when “He crowded her into the wall then, trying to break her grip. He held on to the baby and pushed with all his weight. ” We have no information about what the conflict over this child is exactly, but by seeing the man physically exert tremendous force on the woman in order to secure the child for himself certainly makes him seem less sympathetic.
Still, the story does not condemn either the male or the female, especially as the woman attempts to physically gain control over the child at the end as well. Instead, it indicts both for the terror in their relationship, especially as it exists toward their child. Finally, the high drama of the situation forces the reader to have some investment in the story and realize how terrible the situation is that the child is in. As previously stated, there is little to no context of this story, thereby making it impossible for the reader to fully understand the situation.
However, because there is so much at stake in this story, the reader becomes invested in a different manner. Not only is this couple splitting up in a clearly difficult and emotional way, but there is a child involved, and clearly nothing has been decided for the most positive scenarios of any of the people in any of the situations. In fact, the situation is cleared up because of physical force between the two people, and the story ends with the phrase “In this manner, the issue was decided.
” The issue is decided because of the violence directed toward the child, and that the two people in the relationship use their child as a weapon makes the situation incredibly dramatic, forcing the reader to be invested in the child’s life and the relationship between the two protagonists. Raymond Carver’s “Popular Mechanics” is vague and has little to no detail, but this allows the reader to become invested in a particular manner and demonstrates the abuse that children go through because of parents separating.
Because of the lack of detail and information regarding the characters, the reader is forced to imagine and place their own experiences inside the story more than they otherwise would, making the story more universally applicable than a story with vastly more detail. Indeed, it shows that domestic violence and conflict exists in many different types of situations and among different types of people.
Further, the lack of exposition further reduces the reader’s accurate knowledge of the situation while the extreme drama of the story causes the reader to become more invested and judge the actions of the characters in the story more deeply. All of this together provides a story that provides the minimum amount of information that a story can have to still be a story, but also provides unique relationships between characters and readers, and shows how pervasive, widespread, common, and problematic domestic conflict between men and women can be, and primarily how this conflict uses and abuses children as a weapon in these conflicts.
Courtney from Study Moose
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