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Popular Mechanics

The short story "Popular Mechanics" is one of Raymond Carver’s shortest stories, and was included in the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981). The story is short, but its intense and compact plot makes a horrifying impression.

Couple in conflict

Popular Mechanics by Raymond Carver

A man and a woman are fighting over their baby. They hurt each other, and they end up hurting the baby, the only thing they have in common and whom they both love. Or – do they?

Carver has been labelled a “dark writer” because in most of his stories he focuses on the base and primitive aspects of human nature. His protagonists are often individuals who in some way or other have reached the end of the line and turn to desperate actions to protect their dignity.

Follow the link and read the short story, then do the tasks below.

"Popular Mechanics" by Raymond Carver

Tasks and Activities

  1. How can this story be read as an allegory? (If you don’t remember what an allegory is, check Literary Terms and find out.)
  2. How does the setting complement the plot?
  3. The characters have no names; does that add anything to the way we understand the story?
  4. What is the mood of the story, and how does the writer create this?
  5. Comment on the style of the dialogue between the man and the woman.
  6. How can we interpret the title of the story? (There is a slightly different meaning of “popular” than “liked by many people”)
  7. What do you think is the theme of the story? (Discuss “love” as a possible theme.)
  8. The story has a somewhat open and enigmatic ending; what do you think happened?
  9. How does this story fit Carver’s classification as a “dark writer”?
  10. Check YouTube for a dramatized version of the story.

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Literature after 1900

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