Throughout our lives, every day we experience a wide range of emotions. According to the Webster's Dictionary, an emotion is a "psychological state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is sometimes accompanied by physiological changes a feeling". Human beings use emotions when interacting with one another in order to express their thoughts on specific subject or matter concerning them.
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Emotions are triggered through variety of feelings such as, happiness, sadness, anger, and confusion. There are many professionals that dedicate their time and effort to interpret the human emotions along with their characteristics. However, there are some emotions that have a clear definition by psychologist but are still questioned in today's day and age. One of the major emotions with an unclear understanding is love. Love is a four-letter word that means "a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person".On the other hand, love is an emotion that can be tied with multiple feelings. Love can be associated with either, or a combination of: happiness, sadness, anger, and confusion. That is why love is such a complex emotion of the human mind. In the short story What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, Raymond Carver uses symbolic scenes to help convey the theme of the short story, which is that love has no clear definition, since it has several meanings.
The story begins with two married couples sitting together and drinking gin with tonic as they talk and discuss what they presumably believe to be the meaning of love. The first couple is Nick, the narrator of the story, and his wife Laura. The second couple is Nick's friend Mel's and his wife Terri. As the gin and tonic circles the table, they stumble over the topic of love. The conversation then follows with Mel's mentioning of his 5-year experience in a seminar, and in his learning's he has come to a conclusion that real love is spiritual love. His wife Terri then mentions her experience with her abusive ex-husband, Ed. She then states: "He beat me up one night. He dragged me across the living room by my ankles. He kept saying, ‘ I love you, I love you, you bitch.'" (5-7) Mel then rejects Terri's viewpoint, by asserting that Ed's abusive behavior cannot be associated with love and in no sense can be considered love.Terri then the object's by claiming that even though "It may sound crazy to you, but it's true just the same. Okay. But he loved me. In his own way maybe, but he loved me." (7-9) In this beginning scene of the story, Carver is illustrating how love is seen and is interpreted differently by each individual person.
Furthermore, in relation to Terri having an ex-husband, Carver portrays all four of the characters consisting of the two couples to have all been married prior to their current marriage. Imposing that even these people have had their positive and negative experiences towards love. Demonstrating that love between two people may not be destined for eternity. In addition, Mel imposes a question to everyone on the table stating; "if something happened to one of us tomorrow I think the other one, the other person, would grieve for a while, you know, but then the surviving party would go out and love again, have someone else soon enough." (51-53) With this statement, Carver renders to the reader that love is in fact, not everlasting. However, Carver then contradicts himself with Mel's story of the old couple in the car accident, where the elderly man was depressed, "it wasn't the accident exactly but it was because he couldn't see [his wife] through his eye-holes."With this contradiction in play, Carver is again suggesting to the reader that love is undefined as it can be viewed and experienced in several ways.
In addition, Carver uses alcohol along with Mel's perception of love in order to illustrate how to love, like drunkenness, is a temporary emotion that can cause deception. Carver first inserts to the reader that Mel is somewhat a credible source when discussing love through Mel's professional career as a cardiologist, portraying him as the "heart doctor".Moreover, his previous experiences with love and his ex-wife make him a veteran to the emotion of love and its effects. Carver then has Mel concluded that love is not everlasting, as it is a temporary emotion timed by life's unexpected happenings. Terri then asks Mel if he is drunk, due to his continuous blabbering about his meaning of love. Even though he assures her that he is "just talking", the reader can still sense his slight level of intoxication due to the amount of alcohol he has already consumed. The presence of alcohol along with Mel's definition of love demonstrates the relationship between alcohol and love.That is because when people are in love, they are in a mental, physical, and emotional state, which they cannot understand, control, and much less explain. It makes them do things that are not typical of them and have new reactions to common experiences. Much like when in love people tend to act and think differently. Just like Mel, as he mentions his past affections towards his ex-wife, and how now he is praying for her to "get herself stung to death by a swarm of… bees". (134) Carver's use of alcohol symbolizes to the reader that love like drunkenness causes a person to act disorderly to their common behavior.
The short story What We Talk about When We Talk about Love uses several definitions of love in order to portray to the reader that love has no clear definition. Such examples are found through symbolism as Carver hints to the reader that love is an uncontrollable, unpredictable, and at times an unmanageable emotion of the human mind. Furthermore, Carver provides additional clues to demonstrate love's temporariness as well as its potential permanence. Concluding that love has no clear definition as it can be evaluated in multiple directions to appeal towards multiple situations.
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