Like with many other things in life, if you take the time and learn a little about the history of the person behind the creation, the nuances will begin to define themselves. The similarities between Raymond Carver’s parents’ relationship and the relationship between him and his first wife are very interesting. Carver and his father both worked as sawmill workers and his mother and his wife both worked as waitresses and sales clerks. That is just the beginning of the similarities. Carver and his father both suffered from alcohol addiction.
It is during one of those drunken times that one wonders if the scene written about took place. It is easy to question is this a work of fiction or was it an actual moment from Carver’s own life. Was he a small boy whose parents were arguing so heatedly? Or was it he himself and his wife? Or is this even a scene that has been played out many times in his life by his parents as a child and then between he and his wife as an adult.
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Williams 2 In “Mine” the language is more descriptive and the intensity of the emotions that are being expressed can be felt more clearly.
And because the wording is more vivid in this version, I believe that the short story was based on a memory from Carver’s own childhood. The first edition, I believe allows greater insight into the pain of the mother and the determination to keep the child. The father’s emotions are slightly more veiled and not as direct. Because mothers are the primary care takers of the children, I think what we are reading about is at minimum a feeling expressed into words of Carver’s feelings about his parents.
We feel the pain of the mother and know the anguish that must be in her heart as her baby is being ripped from her arms. In “Little Things” the language is more garbled and the feelings are not as apparent. Words that provide emphasis are omitted and the tone is more that of despair. The parents almost appear as empty and going through motions and not actively in the moment. I have no doubt after reading this version that the parents cared more for themselves than the child itself. I was left with the feeling that the outcome was known before the first sentence was complete.
It was easy to once again wonder if this was a moment in the author’s own life. With this edition of the story, had the intensity of the memory been lulled with the first publication? Because with the feeling removed, the story does not have the same effect that it did in the previous publication. The third edition had no changes except to the title, so it could even be possible that the final edition “Popular Mechanics,” was solely to say fare well to the memory all together. Raymond Carver was a writer who lived the life one often thinks that a writer would live.
Failed relationships, issues with alcoholism, and a general feeling of not being understood were all things that Carver battled for a good part of his adult life. The first publication “Mine” shows so much emotion and clarity you never doubt the thoughts or the actions of the characters. The Williams 3 actual origin or muse for the story will never be known. We will forever speculate on whether the story is a moment from his childhood or if this is a scene played out in his adult life. We do know however that the first title “Mine” is the title that most accurately describes the conflict within the story and the lives of its characters.