“Put Yourself in My Shoes” is one of the longest and most complex stories in the collection, and one of its finest. In addition, it brings together a number of the themes and images that have recurred throughout the book. For example, it depicts the kind of interaction between two couples that we have seen in “Neighbors” and “What’s in Alaska?”; in this case, the Myerses go to visit the Morgans, whose house they had lived in for a year while Professor Morgan and his wife were in Germany, but whom they have not seen since. Furthermore, the issue of empathy that surfaced in “Fat,” “Neighbors,” and “The Idea,” the ability to visualize oneself in another’s perspective, is so central here that in becomes the title of the story. What is different about this story, however, is its self-consciousness, its concentration on the role of the writer. In many ways, “Put Yourself in My Shoes” can be seen as Carver’s comment on his own career, on storytelling itself.
Myers is a writer, although he hasn’t sold anything yet and is currently not writing. He has quit his job to pursue his muse, but with little success. As the story opens he is depressed, ” between stories and [feeling] despicable”, when his wife calls to invite him to the office Christmas party. But he doesn’t want to go, mainly because the textbook publishing company where she works is also his former place of employment. Like Marston in “What Do You Do in San Francisco?” Myers is feeling the guilt of the unemployed, which is intensified by the fact that he moves in a much more upscale setting that is typical of Carver’s protagonists. Myers is also reluctant to pay a holiday call on the Morgan, although his wife, Paula, finally convinces him to go. The meeting does turn out to be quite an uncomfortable occasion, however. As they approach the house, Myers narrowly avoids being attacked by the Morgans’ dog. Shortly thereafter, following a seemingly inoffensive discussion of writing, the Morgans themselves more directly attack him.
Edgar Morgan, from the beginning of their encounter seems to be acting “odd” and on edge for some unknown reason. When Paula asserts that her husband “writes something almost every day”, Edgar confronts him on the point. “Is that a fact?” Morgan said. “That’s impressive. What did you write today, may I ask?” Myers can only respond ” Nothing”, an answer that places him on an existential precipice. The response inevitably leads to questions about his identity, for what is a writer who doesn’t write? Edgar Morgan then proceeds to tell a story to test what Myers’s imagination can do with some facts. The story is about a university professor that has had and affair with one of his students. He asks his wife for a divorce, and she throws him out of the house.
While leaving, he is hit with a can of tomato soup thrown by his son, and his is now in the hospital in serious condition, Myers finds the story quite amusing while Paula and Hilda Morgan are disgusted. Edgar tells Myers that a writer could look at this from the husband’s point of view and get quite a story; Hilda says that the same is true of looking at the story from the wife’s point of view, and Paula speaks up for the son’s point of view. Edgar then tops them all by asserting: “But here’s something I don’t think any of you has thought about. Think about this for a moment. Mr. Myers are you listening? Tell me what you think of this. Put yourself in the shoes of that eighteen-year-old coed who fell in love with a married man. Think about her for a moment, and then you see the possibilities for your story.” Hilda responds that she has no sympathy for the girl at all or for the professor, but only for the wife and child. Myers apparently has no sympathy for any of the people involved, he can only see the black humor of the entire situation. This lack of empathy again calls into question the appropriateness of his vocation as a writer.
Hilda Morgan later narrates another story, that of Mrs. Attenborough, an Australian woman who had collapsed and died while visiting them in their home in Germany. Hilda had left her purse (containing ID cards, a check, and some cash) in a museum, where Mrs. Atttenborough had found it, minus the cash; she has taken an taxi to the Morgnas’ house to return it, but fell ill there. While the woman was lying unconscious, Hilda went through her purse in search of identification, only to find the missing money. When Hilda tells that “
Fate sent her to die on the couch in our living room in Germany”, Myers cannot restrain his laughter. As Myers continues to giggle, Morgan pounces on him: “If you were a real writer, as you say you are, Mr. Myers, you would not laugh… You would not dare laugh! You would try to understand. You would plumb the depths of that poor soul’s heart and try to understand, but you are no writer, sir!” Once again, though, the motivation of Morgan’s attack is unclear, to Meyers and to the reader.
At the point the Morgans move in for the kill, however, and the reader soon discovers the true reason for many of their strange actions. From the beginning they have appeared to conceal hatred toward the Myerses, as indicated by the way in which Edgar plays the gracious host but curses and throws things in the kitchen, and he now begins to explain the root of their resentment by telling another story. Saying ” Consider this for a possibility, Mr. Myers!”, Morgan tells of a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Y who go to Germany for a year and lease their apartment to Mr. and Mrs. Z, a couple whom they do not know. Mr. and Mrs. Z violate the terms of the lease in several ways, such as bringing in a cat and using stored materials.
The reader quickly realizes that this is the story of the Morgans and the Myerses, and that the Morgans’ anger over these violations accounts for the tension that Myers has been feeling throughout the evening. Myers in now forced to put himself into the other person’s shoes, and he does not see much to admire when he looks at himself from that perspective. Edgar Morgan, enraged and delirious about the invasion of Mr. and Mrs. Y’s privacy by the tenants explains, ” that’s the real story, Mr. Myers”.
Once again, however, Myers’s only outward response to the story is to laugh. Paula seems to disregard the meaning of the story entirely-as they drive away she remarks that ” Those people are crazy”-but Myers shows himself to have been more deeply affected. The story’s final lines show us a man who looks like a deer caught in deadlights: “He did not answer. Her voice seemed to come to him from a great distance. He kept driving. Snow rushed at the windshield. He was silent and watched the road. He was at the very end of a story”.
“Put Yourself in My Shoes” seems as Carver’s way of commenting on his own writing. Raymond Carver seems quite concerned, for example, about the voyeuristic mature of the writer’s craft, which, after all involves putting oneself in another’s shoes to report on life from that angle. Carver also acknowledges his tendency to see the black humor in a story, his tendency to laugh at tragedy, another reason some criticize him. In any event, the change that Myers experiences at the end of the story may be indicative of a change in Carver’s writing as well, an increased attempt to see the story from all sides and evaluate the difficulty of interrelationships.