Study Guide

Why Don't You Dance? Setting

By Raymond Carver


A Guy's House… Somewhere in the U.S.A. (Maybe?)

Just like with the characters, the setting doesn't exactly get a ton of fleshing out; details are few and far between. We don't know for sure where in the English-speaking world the story takes place, but we can probably assume the U.S. since the characters speak like Americans. Beyond that, though, we're just guessing. Okay, that's not entirely true—we know the story is probably not set in downtown Manhattan or Chicago because the setting seems to be suburban. Aside from that, we don't know much about the larger setting of where the action takes place.

What we do know, though, is that the protagonist has basically emptied the contents of his house onto the lawn, creating an odd, almost eerie scene. Of course, it's not just that the furniture is on the lawn—it's that the guy has arranged everything as it was in the house. Check it out:

In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard. The mattress was stripped and the candy-striped sheets lay beside two pillows on the chiffonier. Except for that, things looked much the way they had in the bedroom — nightstand and reading lamp on his side of the bed, nightstand and reading lamp on her side.

His side, her side.

He considered this as he sipped the whiskey.

The chiffonier stood a few feet from the foot of the bed. He had emptied the drawers into cartons that morning, and the cartons were in the living room. A portable heater was next to the chiffonier. A rattan chair with a decorator pillow stood at the foot of the bed. The buffed aluminum kitchen set took up a part of the driveway. A yellow muslin cloth,much too large, a gift, covered the table and hung down over the sides. A potted fern was on the table, and a few feet away from this stood a sofa and chair and a floor lamp. The desk was pushed against the garage door. A few utensils were on the desk, along with a wall clock and two framed prints. There was also in the driveway a carton with cups,glasses, and plates, each object wrapped in newspaper. That morning he had cleared out the closets, and except for the three cartons in the living room, all the stuff was out of the home. He had run an extension cord on out there and everything was connected. Things worked, no different from how it was when they were inside. (1-4)

It's pretty weird that this guy puts all his things in exactly the same place—" no different from how it was when they were inside"—on the lawn, no? As we discuss in "Symbols," there are a couple of interpretations of what the furniture and its arrangement is doing for the dude psychologically, but in terms of setting, and our reactions as readers, it's pretty unsettling and weird. From the get go, the setting lets us know that this is not exactly a typical guy or home life… and it only gets weirder from there.

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