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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

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What is Love? Does anyone really know the meaning of the word? Does it have a different meaning to different people? These are the questions that Carver’s four characters ponder over heavily flowing gin and deep conversation in the short story, “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.” Carver characters discuss and debate the meaning of love throughout the story. I will explain what the different characters feel about love. The author shows there are different types of love and different levels of each type. He also proves that someone’s emotions for a person can change from love to hate and then back to love. The characters search for the true meaning of love throughout the story, and in the end, neither figure it out.

The story starts with the four friends sitting at a table having a few drinks before dinner. Mel McGinnis, his wife Terri, his best friend Nick, who is also the narrator of the story, and Nick’s wife Laura are the four characters. Even though Nick narrates the story, Mel, who is a cardiologist, seems to be the main character. The gin is flowing at the table and as Mel starts to feel his drink, he also starts pondering his feelings of love and hate.

Terri and Mel have been married for four years, and he begins to discuss Terri’s previous relationship. Before she married Mel, Terri lived with a man named Ed. Ed is a vital part of this story, even though he is dead at the time. Ed was abusive and at one time tried to kill Terri. Terri speaks of one experience in which Ed says as he is beating her, “I love you, I love you, you bitch” (Carver 726). Mel feels that Ed could have never loved Terri if he was so abusive and tried to kill her. He addresses Terri’s thoughts of Ed’s love by saying, “My God, don’t be silly. That’s not love, and you know it, I don’t know what you’d call it, but I sure know you wouldn’t call it love,” (Carver 726). This emphasizes Mel’s true feelings about love. He goes on to explain that he feels love is unconditional (Carver 727). Mel feels that if you can be abusive to someone and try to kill them, then you cannot possibly be in love with them. Through Mel, Carver is describing a true and unrestricted love. He is telling of a love above all that is not just physical, but powerful and deep, one where you not only feel passion for this person, but a profound emotional attachment.

Terri counteracts his feelings about Ed. She believes he did really love her and that his abusiveness was just uncontrollable passion. Terri responds to Mel by saying, “… Sure, sometimes he may have acted crazy. Okay. But he loved me. In his own way maybe, but he loved me. There was love there, Mel. Don’t say there wasn’t.” (Carver 726-727). This sums up Terri’s feelings of love. She feels that love can be on all different levels and can be felt differently by different people. Terri believes that a person can love another, even though they may be violent and cruel. After Terri left Ed, he tried committing suicide multiple times and finally died from the last attempt. She thinks this shows how strongly he truly felt for her, like her was saying there is no life without Terri (Carver 726-728). I think that the author, through Terri, is depicting a love that can be read in different ways. Terri feels that the passion that Ed felt for her was so strong that it turned easily into rage and caused him to be angry and hurtful.

The story continues to tell about Nick and Laura’s love for each other. Terri speaks of Nick and Laura’s love, saying that they “…are still on the honeymoon, for God’s sake.” and “still gaga” (Carver 729). Nick and Laura are considered newlyweds because they have only been married for eighteen months. Terri feels that she, who has been married to Mel for four years, has much more experience in love than Nick and Laura. The type of love that this couple feels can be described as bliss. It is driven mostly by the physical aspect of the relationship. This is the earlier stages of a relationship and the author seems to think that it will eventually wear away and turn into the kind of love that Mel describes. This shows that there are also different stages of love. Examples of this love are shown by Carver, when Nick and Laura’s knees keep touching, he sensually kisses her hand, and he caresses her thigh under the table.

As the gin continues to pour and the couples start to become drunk, they continue to discuss the true meaning of love. Mel tells a story of an old man and woman who were patients of his and were in a terrible automobile accident. He speaks of how even though both he and his wife were going to live the man is miserable and depressed. He tells of this man’s sadness because he could not see his wife. He felt was unhappy because he loved



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