Study Guide

Why Don't You Dance? Love/Marriage/Sex

By Raymond Carver


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. (1-2)

This is our first clue that there's been some kind of love trauma here. The man was partnered with a woman before (sharing a bed with a "her side" and a "his side"), and now he's not. Plus he's selling his stuff while chugging whiskey. Clearly something went wrong—we just don't know exactly what.

This girl and this boy were furnishing a little apartment. (7)

While the older man's marriage/relationship is over, the young couple coming to buy his furniture is just starting out in life. Perhaps sadly, they end up scavenging the remnants of the older man's marriage to furnish their own place.

"I feel funny," he said. "Better see if anybody's home."

She bounced on the bed.

"Try it first," she said. (18-20)

The young girl is pretty keen to get her boyfriend on the bed with her, even though he feels super awkward about it. She doesn't seem to mind/think it's weird that the bedroom furniture is placed just as it would be inside. In fact, she seems to want to engage in a few "indoor only" activities on the bed, but the boy is uncomfortable.

"Go ahead," the man said. "It's my yard. You can dance if you want to." (83)

This is when things start to get a bit creepy between the man and the couple, particularly the girl. The older man turns on some records and wants the couple to dance while he (and the neighbors) watch. Makes you really wonder what he's getting out of this (and out of the whole encounter with the couple in general).

Arms about each other, their bodies pressed together, the boy and the girl moved up and down the driveway. They were dancing. And when the record was over, they did it again, and when that one ended, the boy said. "I'm drunk." (84)

The couple takes the older man up on his offer and dances, apparently very up-close and personal-like… until the boy is too drunk to continue. Oops.

He felt her breath on his neck.

"I hope you like your bed," he said. (93-94)

Once the boy is too drunk to continue dancing, the older man takes over as the young girl's partner. Apparently she doesn't mind the switch up too much since she gets close enough to breathe on his neck. He seems pretty into it, too, and again talks about the bed. Dude is really excited about her getting it. Hmm…

"You must be desperate or something," she said.

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. Oh, my God. Don't laugh. He played us these records. Look at this record-player. The old guy give it to us. And all these crappy records. Will you look at this s***?" (96-97)

Despite being into the dancing enough to be breathing into the older dude's neck (which means she definitely moves in close), the young girl calls him desperate—and then proceeds to talk about him as though he is sad and pathetic after the evening has ended. Thing is, she knows this isn't the full story of what went on with the older man, but she can't seem to get at the truth of what was going on there. And so we're all left feeling pretty unsettled.

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