Study Guide

Why Don't You Dance? Alcohol Abuse

By Raymond Carver

Alcohol Abuse

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. (1)

This is the first reference to alcohol in the story—and it's also the first line. So it doesn't take long for Carver to make clear that alcohol is at the center of this dude's life right now.

He considered this as he sipped the whiskey. (3)

The older man is drinking whiskey while staring out at the contents of his house, which have been strewn all over the lawn. As we move through the story, we find he's usually not far from a glass of booze.

The man came down the sidewalk with a sack from the market. He had sandwiches, beer, whiskey. He saw the car in the driveway and the girl on the bed. He saw the television set going and the boy on the porch. (40)

The story makes a time jump, and suddenly we're with a young couple that's checking out the furniture on the lawn and trying to figure out what they want to purchase. While they're in the middle of that, the older guy returns from the market, where—you guessed it—he's been buying alcohol.

"It's a good bed," the man said, and put down the sack and took out the beer and the whiskey. (43)

When he arrives home to find the couple cruising his furniture, the older man immediately switches into host mode, which means offering them some of the alcohol he just bought.

The man gazed at the television. He finished his drink and started another. He reached to turn on the floor lamp. It was then that his cigarette dropped from his fingers and fell between the cushions. (61)

The younger kids have trouble keeping up with the older man who (it seems) goes straight from one drink to another without pausing. He's definitely partying hard that night (and probably every night, given how comfortable he is with having a drink constantly in his hand).

He poured more whiskey and opened a beer. (70)

Now the older man has moved on to double fisting—he's getting himself a whiskey and a beer. Clearly, he's a serious drinker.

The man finished his drink and poured another, and then he found the box with the records. (75)

As you can see, just five lines after the older dude started a beer and a whiskey, he's done and pouring another. This is when things start to get weird, by the way, since the records touch off the creepy, vaguely sexual dance party amongst the threesome.

They drank. They listened to the record. And then the man put on another. (80)

While the older man pounds drink after drink, the younger couple are also drinking and growing intoxicated—though we doubt they're keeping quite the same pace as the older gentleman.

The girl said, "You're not drunk."

"Well, I'm drunk," the boy said.

The man turned the record over and the boy said, "I am." (85-87)

The boy tells everyone that he is drunk, but the girl doesn't seem to believe it. The boy's drunkenness prevents him from continuing to dance when the young girl wants to keep going, which is why she moves on to the older man.

Weeks later, she said: "The guy was about middle-aged. All his things right there in his yard. No lie. We got real pissed and danced. In the driveway." (97)

After the evening is over, it seems that the girl is obsessed with analyzing what happened with the older man—or at least trying to analyze it. Naturally, her account involves mentioning that they were all super drunk, which is definitely important to explaining how the evening took that creepy-sexy turn with the dancing.

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