Raymond Carver’s “Why Don’t You Dance?” is subtle but realistic, in the sense that it provides a view that is based on how certain events are perceived in real life. In the real world, people are not omniscient. True to this lack of omniscience, Carver’s narrator provides mere clues to the man’s situation and to the boy and girl’s respective characters. Carver makes use of characters which are open and friendly (the girl), more cautious (the boy) and in despair (the man) to get the real point of the story across. The careless way that the man displays his things for the garage sale shows his desperation that even a carefree girl is able to notice and absorb the heartbreak into her core. Having personally witnessed the man’s life being in shambles, the girl realizes such a tragedy can happen in real life. What has happened to the man can happen to anyone, including herself.
Though it has not been blatantly stated, the man is going through the aftermath of a bitter divorce, or at least a separation from someone he has loved and lived with. He still recognizes the ownership of the furniture as “his and hers”: “Except for that, things looked much the way they had in the bedroom—nightstand and reading lamp on his side of the bed, nightstand and reading lamp on her side” (Carver). The man can still experience his ex-wife’s presence through the things that they used to share, now things that he is about to sell without thought of profit. This is shown by the way he accepts any of the offers for the furniture. He just wants to get rid of the memories even if he has to be paid cheaply for each item.
The youth of the other two characters is emphasized by the narrator by calling them “boy” and “girl”. All three characters have no given names in the text, but they are separated by age and experience. While the man, the older male, is drowning his sorrows in whiskey, the boy and the girl have their life ahead of them. The furniture that the man and his wife used to make their home is now rejected by the man. The boy and the girl are just starting in their life, and are about to buy a few items. They have not yet experienced the bitterness dealt by destiny on the drunken man; they are yet to discover troubles. The girl, for example, is still carefree and happy. The boy is almost equally untroubled by serious problems though he is the one who tries to counter the girl’s more free-flowing ways by his cautiousness. While the girl is easily relaxed in someone else’s territory, the boy says "I'll see if anybody's home” (Carver), wanting to do things properly.
“Why Don’t You Dance” is a passing on of things that represent the experiences that they have witnessed. “She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out. After a time, she quit trying” (Carver). In the end, the girl realizes that there is more to what has happened that a transaction that turned into a bargain. She is able to see the possibility of inheriting the man’s experiences just as she and her friend are able to obtain ownership of his things.
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