Raymond Carver’s “Little Things” informs readers about a man and woman encountering a dispute over who is going to get to keep the baby when they go their separate ways. In the beginning of this work, the omniscient third person narrator updates the audience of the situation at hand. The man is packing his suitcase while the woman declares that she wants him to leave. However, a quarrel occurs when the couple decides that they both want to keep the baby for themselves. When evaluating this text within the context of the minimalist tradition, there are many contributing elements to minimalism.
Carver’s choice of short sentences and a lack of quotation marks allows readers to feel tension arise, while he uses a minimalist style to speak about a struggling, mundane couple with a pressing issue to address. With deeper meaning behind what is said, Carver lets the audience interpret their own meaning of the story. One of the contributing elements of minimalism is that it often includes stories about people who lead mundane lives. “Little Things” is no exception. Near the beginning of the story, we can see that this couple is struggling in more ways than one.
The narrator states, “She stood in the doorway of the little kitchen, holding the baby” (np, Carver). This quote is perhaps one of the greatest clues of the couples’ financial status. We get the idea that the house may have been too small for three people to live in. However, it is obvious this family struggles more than financially. Instead of folding his clothes to pack them, the man “pushes” them into his suitcase. It seems as if he is in a hurry just to get away from his lover.
When she walks in the room, there is a clear separation between the two. He remains on the ed packing while she stands in the doorway. The only thing that connects the two is the baby and neither person is willing to share it. Another clue inside the couple’s relationship, as well as a hint of evidence that this piece is minimalistic, could be the title. “Little Things” could be referring to a number of elements within this work. It is possible that “Little Things” is in reference to the size of the house and the objects within it, or perhaps even the baby itself. Another possible explanation for this title would be that they fight over minuscule matters.
The audience is not informed on why or how the fighting started, but it could be over something really minute that ends up causing a huge consequence. For someone who rejected the idea of being tagged as a minimalistic author, Carver may have even titled the story “Little Things” in an effort to present a comeback to critics who labeled him a minimalist; “he wanted to present his work in a broader perspective, illustrate that the minimalism was just a technique used in some stories, not the defining characteristic of his work. ” (McDermott, paragraph 1).
However, because all titles signify more than what is said, it would seem that they provide even more evidence of this being a minimalistic piece. What is so interesting about the title is that it has been altered three separate times. Originally, the story was called “Mine”, but this story is not the same as “Little Things”, the final title, or “Popular Mechanics”, the second title it is known by. Carver’s editor, Gordon Lish, changed the title to “Popular Mechanics” which ironically enough was the title of a how-to magazine (McManus, paragraph 5).
Popular Mechanics” may have also been in reference to mechanical laws in science. One source states, “The title, also the title of a magazine for do-ityourselfers, should conjure up in the reader’s mind, by story’s end, physical laws such as “for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. ” (German, 258). Just as the flower pot broke after being knocked on, the tugged on baby also follows the laws of science and the reaction is quite traumatizing.
Another area in which we see the minimalistic style being presented is the way in which “Little Things” is written. Carver leaves out quotation marks during dialogue between the broken couple. Sentences are short, to the point, and may even seem choppy at times. For example, the female character is bursting full of emotion as if she were an erupting volcano that had been dormant for so long. She keeps telling him over and over to get out of the house, which indicates she may not really want him to go.
It seems like a cry for responsiveness, one last effort to catch his attention and get him to stay. While the woman is crying and hollering, the narrator uses one quick sentence to show us the conclusiveness of the relationship, “He did not answer” (np, Carver). In this one brief statement, the readers can infer that this man has not really been present in this relationship for a while; he has made his decision and nothing can reverse it. Minimalism includes these brief sentences to arouse emphasis or even to increase tension.
When asked in an interview if this style had evolved or if it had been with him from the start, Carver answered, “This may have resulted from being John Gardner’s student, because he told me something I immediately responded to: he said, “If you can say it in fifteen words rather than twenty or thirty words, then say it in fifteen words. ” (McCaffery & Gregory, 239). In the same interview, Carver talks about how much thought he puts into what people say and how they say it (McCaffery & Gregory, 243).
He implies that there is always a reason behind why people say things the way that they do; this mindset is common among minimalist authors, such as Ernest Hemingway whom Carver was greatly influenced by. The lack of quotation marks also has influence on the tension in the story. Since punctuation usually signals a pause in the story, Carver’s decision not to include quotation marks may signify the pace of the argument. Just like the sentences are short and to the point, so is this argument. Another key point in minimalism is that the author does not try to persuade his or her readers to think a certain way.
According to the Iceberg Theory, only the tip of the iceberg is seen but there is a lot more under the surface. Minimalistic pieces follow this theory. The audience is only shown some of the story, or what happens, and the rest is beneath the surface for the audience to make their own interpretations and assumptions about what really happens, what happens next, and even what the author intended for the story to mean. “Little Things” is chocked full of symbolism and includes an abrupt ending that leaves the readers alone with their imagination.
In the very first paragraph of the story, the narrator depicts a change in the weather, “Early that day the weather turned and the snow was melting into dirty water” (np, Carver). The word “dirty” stands out in the sentence. Perhaps this symbolizes the melting down of the once beautifully growing relationship into something unclean and ugly. The first sentence could be considered foreshadowing for what is to come. The last sentence of the first paragraph states that not only was it dark outside, but “it was getting dark on the inside too” (np, Carver).
This already sets the stage for the readers and could even be a glimpse into the state of mind of the adult characters. Another point to make is that neither character ever calls the baby by his name. This could mean that the baby is considered just another possession for the two to fight over rather than an actual child. It becomes evident that the two are using the baby as another thing to argue over when they begin to literally pull the baby back and forth like a tug of war. In the midst of fighting over the child, a flower pot is knocked over and broken.
For something to become broken during the conflict, it appears as if it could be symbolizing the relationship. After all of the pointless arguing, perhaps the fight over the baby was the breaking point that finalized the relationship. Not only does symbolism play a role in the minimalistic mindset that one should say less but mean more, allusion also comes into play. Carver is undoubtedly alluding to a Biblical story in 1 Kings 3:16-28 (German, 259).
This story consists of two women each have a baby born within three days of the other, however one of the babies dies. The mother f the deceased baby wants to trade hers for the living baby, so the two women go to King Solomon about the dispute. The King decides the best way to fix the issue is by cutting the living baby in half and splitting it between the two women. The last sentence in “Little Things” sends an eerie message that is left up for interpretation, “In this manner, the issue was decided” (np, Carver). Somehow, the issue over who gets the baby has been resolved. If the audience relates the story to that of the Biblical story of Solomon’s advice to divide the child, then it is believable that the child is split in two.
Since the parents in “Little Things” could not come to a civil agreement over who gets the baby, perhaps the child now belongs to both of them. Sadly enough in my interpretation, the baby has been divided into two halves, so the parents don’t truly possess the baby anymore as they had tried to before. Although what happens next is not included in the text, I believe, and hope, that the two became tormented over their actions and that the disfigured/dead child opened their eyes in a way that leads them to become more civil towards one another.
The audience is left with unanswered questions, which is often seen in minimalist works, as a way of letting the reader use his or her own imagination to interpret what has occurred or what will happen next. “Little Things” fits the bill when it comes to the checklist of minimalism. Carver does not write about millionaires who have some sort of crisis, but instead he depicts a story of two people living a mundane lifestyle whose little problems turn into them possibly suffering huge consequences. The tale about a dispute in a relationship seems tedious and dull, until it isn’t; the baby becomes collateral damage in the broken relationship.
Carver only shows us the tip of the iceberg and allows us to figure out what the underneath layer is made up of by giving us symbolism and allusions throughout this piece of literature. While using this unique style of omitting quotation marks to fasten the pace of the argument, the audience is drawn in by the relatability of a fight between significant others. The brief, concise sentences, a notable feature of minimalism, help set the tone and build the tension. “Little Things” is a prime example of less being more.