Study Guide

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Love

By Raymond Carver


Mel thought real love was nothing less than spiritual love. He said he'd spent five years in a seminary before quitting to go to medical school. He said he still looked back on those years in the seminary as the most important years of his life. (3)

Let's think about this. If Mel believes that real love is nothing less than spiritual love, and if he props up the story of the elderly couple as an example of true love, then this must mean that that couple had spiritual love, right? But what exactly does that mean? And is God involved?

"I was in the room with him when he died," Terri said. He never came up out of it. But I sat with him. He didn't have anyone else."

"He was dangerous," Mel said. If you call that love, you can have it."

"It was love," Terri said. "Sure, it's abnormal in most people's eyes. But, he was willing to die for it. He did die for it." (34-36)

We don't know about you, but we're a little leery of Terri's comments here. She suggests that obsession, suicidal tendencies and even violence can be part of our definition of love. Does that sound right to you? What's another word for the way Ed felt about Terri? Or did Ed's actions have more to do with himself than with our female character?

"Well, Nick and I know what love is," Laura said. "For us, I mean," Laura said. She bumped my knee with her knee. […]

For an answer, I took Laura's hand and raised it to my lips. I made a big production out of kissing her hand. Everyone was amused. (42-43)

Okay, so according to Nick and Laura, love is kissing hands. Since we don't get to know Nick and Laura very well, we can't see all that deeply into their relationship. And on the surface, they certainly do seem to be in love. But Nick seems to think that because he really likes Laura, and because things are easy between them, that that means the two of them are in love. We wonder if he might want to rethink such a simple definition.

"What do any of us really know about love?" Mel said. "It seems to me we're just beginners at love." (56)

The title of Raymond Carver's original draft of this story, "Beginners," takes its name from this line. If the story were still called "Beginners," would that change the way you read it?

"I'd get up to his mouth-hole […] and he'd say no, it wasn't the accident exactly but it was because he couldn't see her through his eye-holes. He said that was what was making him feel so bad. Can you imagine? I'm telling you, the man's heart was breaking because he couldn't turn his goddamn head and see his goddamn wife." (75)

Ah, true love. You know it when you see it. And it, in this case, is an old dude, who looks like a mummy, who's heartbroken because he can't turn his head from side to side. Well, based on the rest of this story, with all its conflicting notions of love, this sounds like as good a definition as any.

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