Study Guide

The Man in Why Don't You Dance?

By Raymond Carver

The Man

Yup, that's as far as Carver goes in terms of giving our protagonist (if you can really call him that) a name—he's just "the man." It's probably appropriate then that we don't really know too many details about him. We don't get a physical description, and we don't know why he thought putting all his stuff out on the lawn was a good idea. All we really know is that he once had a wife (now he doesn't), and now he keeps his furniture outdoors. Oh, and he likes whiskey very much.

The intense interest in alcohol plus a missing/departed wife might suggest that the guy is in a good deal of pain, but if that's the case, he doesn't let on. If anything, he seems to be super laid back. Case in point: his "negotiation" strategy with the young couple when they are trying to lowball him on the furniture:

"I was thinking fifty dollars for the bed," the man said.

"Would you take forty?" the girl asked.

"I'll take forty," the man said. (45-47)

As you can see from this snippet, the man doesn't seem at all that interested in what happens to his stuff, or how much he gets for it—he doesn't even try a counter offer. The couple and the man rinse and repeat this scenario with other pieces of furniture, and the man continues to be pretty indifferent to the whole process.

He does break from his mellow and vanilla demeanor, though, later in the evening when he starts dancing with the young girl. It's hard to put a finger on exactly why this moment is so unsettling, but the man's attitude toward the girl veers into creepy territory when they start dancing and end up reveling in the fact that they're being watched. Although the girl is uncomfortable at first, she ends up being totally into the fact that the neighbors are taking in their show—as is the older gentleman:

"That's right," the man said. "They thought they'd seen everything over here. But they haven't seen this, have they?" (92)

Like we said, it's hard to put a finger on exactly what is so creepy about this moment, but it seems like he's getting a kind of charge—probably a sexual one—out of his dance with the young girl in front of the whole neighborhood. He seems to delight in being watched and seen as a little inappropriate. The young girl calls him desperate, and perhaps she's right; clearly there's something he needs/wants, and he's going about it in a weird way (you know, by getting too chummy with a young customer who already has a boyfriend).

The bottom line: We end up with more questions about the man than answers by the end.

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