Love is a common literary theme that has been used by authors such as Jamaica Kincaid and Raymond Carver. Surely, these authors have reflected on the way in which it has the potential to ruin or make our lives. The following work below shows how love and isolation are common themes.
Love and isolation in Carver and Kincaid’s texts
Though love is often thought of as a warm and empowering experience, it can often lead to feelings of isolation. Throughout the centuries, many authors have addressed this darker side of love through their works. These authors include Jamaica Kincaid and Raymond Carver, who wrote Lucy and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, respectively. In both texts, the two authors address the shortcomings of love, highlighting how often those who most desperately seek to understand love are left feeling alienated and despondent. In Lucy, Kincaid uses the relationship between Lucy and her mother, as well as Lucy’s rejection of Paul’s love to show how love can lead to feeling more alone.
Throughout What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Carver uses alcohol and the relationship between men and women to illustrate the idea that can love cannot bridge many differences and can lead to feeling alone. Ultimately, in both Carver’s short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Kincaid’s Lucy, the authors examine the possibility that love might not lead to happiness, but rather feelings of isolation.
Lucy’s relationship with her mother, Annie Porter, depicts the notion that love can lead oftentimes lead to loneliness. Kincaid conveys this message by portraying Lucy’s fervent love for her mother as a factor in what causes much of Lucy’s despair throughout the novel. Lucy loves her mother more than anything, but when Annie gives birth to two sons, Lucy begins to rejected and alone. “Whenever I saw her eyes fill up with tears at the thought of how proud she would be at some deed her sons had accomplished, I felt a sword go through my heart,” says Lucy, thinking of her mother’s relationship with her brothers (Kincaid 130).
In Lucy’s heartbreak after losing her mother’s attention and affection to the birth of her brothers, we can see that Kincaid is illustrating the idea that love can lead to loneliness and devastation. Lucy loves her mother more than anything, yet this love doesn’t lead to satisfaction, but rather a deepening sense of loneliness as she sees her mother drift away from her and further into dreams for the boys. Through abandonment by the person Lucy loves most in life, Kincaid reveals the isolating power of love.
Lucy’s emotional distance in Lucy
Throughout the novel, Lucy maintains emotional distance from the people with whom she’s engaged with on a physical level. Lucy’s rejection of love from any of these physical situations represents the overall negation of the idea that love will bring people together. Though many of Lucy’s sexual interactions with characters throughout the novel are purely physical, her relationship with Paul eventually begins to involve feelings as he falls in love with her. Lucy, however, is not interested in this ascension into the emotional. “He kissed me now in that possessive way, lingering over my mouth, pressing my whole body into his; and though I was not unmoved, it was not as special as he believed” (Kincaid 156).
In this interaction, we see Lucy rejecting any emotional connection to Paul. Lucy’s emotional distance from Paul represents love’s inability to connect Lucy to the people surrounding her. Lucy uses this distance to begin to build her own identity as she begins writing about her life free from the influence of others (163), but this complete rejection of love throughout the novel hints at its inability to bring people together. Love’s inability to forge emotional connections is also addressed in Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
In What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Carver uses the relationships between men and women to highlight the character’s inability to use love to bridge divides. Men and women are consistently portrayed as discordant creatures, unable to connect on a substantial level. This isolation between genders can be seen in “Tell the Women We’re Going” when the characters pass two young women on the road. “’Look at that,’ Jerry said, slowing. ‘I could use some of that,’” writes Carver on the interaction between the two genders (Carver 61). Amidst the two couples stories, there exists little legitimate love. Instead we see the men in the stories dehumanizing the women, their counterparts in this exploration of love. Though images of men and women being physically intimate appear in the novel (88), we don’t ever see them delve into a deeper emotional communication.
Instead, men continue to see women as valueless, which speaks to love’s inability to connect people. In a collection of stories about love, we would expect to see positive, nurturing portrayals of couples. The interactions between men and women in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love are missing the landmark interdependence and sensitivity that characterizes love in many other novels, thus demonstrating Carver’s belief that love is incapable of defeating alienation between genders and people. Love’s inability to bring people together is developed through the involvement of alcohol throughout the stories.
Throughout What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Carver uses alcohol to symbolize the alienating powers of love. As the two couples are sharing their stories, alcohol is inextricably linked to their ability to verbalize what they know about love. Initially the alcohol gives the couples the feeling that they’re moving towards a mutual understanding of love. “We raised our glasses again and grinned at each other like children who had agreed on something forbidden,” says Mel (Carver 55). This shared knowing grin indicates that the couples believe they are approaching a powerful and uniting understanding of love.
As more stories are shared and more alcohol is consumed, the couples become confused and disillusioned in their discussions of love. When eventually the alcohol runs out, the couples are no longer able to share their stories and are left even more isolated than they were in the beginning. “I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark,” concludes Nick. (145). Though the characters are desperate to communicate about love, when the alcohol is gone they are incapable of expressing themselves. Through the linking of alcohol and love in the story, we can see that Carver is highlighting how love can be an alienating and confusing experience. Alcohol is not capable of nourishing someone, and neither is love, in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Though Mel, Nick, Laura, and Terri initially set out to reach a deeper understanding of love, the fact that at the end of their discussion they are left silent and drunk in a darkened room more confused than they began indicates that love does not have the power to illuminate or unite.
Both Lucy and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love illustrate a darker side of love. Though love is a central theme in both of the texts, neither is focused on the blissful joy that is sometimes associated with love. Instead, Kincaid and Carver both examine love’s inability to bring people together. Instead we see a vision of love that leaves the characters alone and isolated. Lucy feels abandoned by her mothers love and eventually emotionally distances herself from anyone who is romantically interested in her. In What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, the relationships between men and women throughout the stories are mostly superficial and loveless, while Carver’s integration of alcohol throughout the story mirrors love’s inability to nourish relationships. Carver and Kincaid ultimately create an image of love that futile in traversing the boundaries that exist between people.
Carver, Raymond. What We Talk about When We Talk about Love: Stories. New York: Knopf, 1981. Print.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990. Print.
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