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by Raymond Carver

Analysis: Writing Style

Hemingway-esque, Architectural

The two things you're most likely to hear about Carver's writing style are that it's very much like Ernest Hemingway's, and that it's an example of minimalism (Hemingway being a master of minimalism). The idea behind minimalism is that by giving the reader a bare minimum of information, he or she will be able to figure out what's underneath, according to his or her unique position. Jay McInerney, author of 1980s sensation Bright Lights, Big City, and a student of Carver's says "Carver's language was unmistakably like Hemingway's – the simplicity and clarity, the repetitions, the nearly conversational rhythms […]" (source). We can definitely see this. Think of the repetition of the word "comfort" at the end of Part 2, or the repletion of the words "blind man" throughout the story. Now, here's what Carver has to say about being compared to Hemingway:

I've read a lot of him. When I was 19 or 20 years old I read a lot, and Hemingway was part of what I read. […] I'm sure I learned from Hemingway, no doubt about it, and especially from his early work. I like his work. If I'm compared with him, I feel honored. For me, Hemingway's sentences are poetry. There's a rhythm, a cadence. I can reread his early stories and I find them as extraordinary as ever. They fire me up as much as ever. It's marvelous writing. (source)

Now, here's what Carver says about being called a minimalist:

Critics often use the term "minimalist" when discussing my prose. But it's a label that bothers me: it suggests the idea of a narrow vision of life, low ambitions, and limited cultural horizons. And, frankly, I don't believe that's my case. Sure, my writing is lean and tends to avoid any excess. (source)

There's really only one way for you to decide if Carver and Hemingway have similar styles: read and compare them, then be the judge.

You don't have to read Hemingway, though, to judge whether Carver's prose is architectural. Author's intentions don't always map correctly onto their work, but we know Carver intended his to be architectural, and a certain kind of architecture at that:

He [Hemingway] said prose is architecture and the Baroque age is over. That suits me. Flaubert said close to the same thing, that words are like stones with which one builds a wall. I believe that completely. I don't like careless writers whose words have no moorings, are too slippery. (source)

To greatly simplify matters, Baroque architecture is big, fancy, and ornate. There are baroque cathedrals, like St. Paul's in London, but the ones the ones in the documentary seem to be Gothic cathedrals, including Notre Dame in Paris. Carver's prose isn't elaborate or fancy. Word by word, sentence by sentence, he builds a fairly simple story. "Cathedral" doesn't depend on lots of details or extravagant touches, but rather on the ordinary details of everyday life. Here's one of our favorite examples:

We finished everything, including half of a strawberry pie. For a few moments we sat as if stunned. Sweat beaded our faces. Finally we got up from the table and left our dirty plates. We did not look back. (1.46)

A series of simple sentences build one on top of the other to express a simple yet mysterious meaning. We can all understand the excellence of sharing a big meal among friends, but we aren't exactly sure what it means in this particular case.

What kind of architecture do you think Carver's prose most closely resembles? Click here for a link to modernist architecture, and here for postmodern architecture.

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