What We Talk about When We Talk about Love

This study guide will help you analyze the short story “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love” by Raymond Carver. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective


Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide: 

Social setting

The story’s social setting mainly focuses on divorced couples and attitudes towards domestic abuse

All four characters are divorced and have been married before their current relationships. Consequently, they have different views of love. Mel believes that love is only spiritual, as he claims he finds it hard to imagine he has once loved Marjorie, his first wife, whom he now hates. Terri believes that love means sacrifice, and pities her violent ex-husband, Ed. Nick and Laura are still in the “honeymoon” phase of the relationship, but Nick does not express his love verbally, as Laura does. 

The story illustrates the issue of domestic abuse through Terri and Ed. Terri tells their friends about Ed’s abuse but seems to find excuses for him: 

He beat me up one night. He dragged me around the living room by my ankles. He kept saying, ‘I love you, I love you, you bitch.’ He went on dragging me around the living room. My head kept knocking on things. 

This is consistent with the attitude victims of domestic abuse sometimes have towards their abusers. Terri tries to normalize and justify Ed’s behavior by claiming it was out of love.

Mel, on the other hand, claims that Ed’s dangerous behavior is not proof of love: “ ‘If you call that love, you can have it’ ”. His somewhat insensitive comment that Terri is “of the kick-me-so-I’ll-know-you-love-me school” shows that he dismisses his wife’s trauma and does not seem able to understand her.

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What We Talk about When We Talk about Love

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