Study Guide for “Popular Mechanics” (Raymond Carver, 1981)

Discussion Questions Raymond Carver’s “Popular Mechanics” (1981)

  • What is the importance of the story’s title? Why do you think the author chose the title of a magazine for his short story?
  • What is the importance of the narrator’s emphasis on the snow’s melting into dirty water?
  • Identify all the settings in the story and discuss what they signify.
  • Identify all the imagery about light and dark in the story and discuss how such imagery contributes to your understanding of the story.
  • Identify all the references to windows and doorways in the story and discuss how they contribute to your understanding of the story.
  • In what ways would you call Carver’s writing style “minimalist”? Please explain by giving examples from the story.
  • What is the symbolic value of the flowerpot?
  • Identify all the references to the baby in the story and then in relation to these references, discuss what the baby means to his parents.
  • What do you think “the issue” refers to in the last sentence of the story: “In this manner, the issue was decided.”
  • The last sentence of Carver’s story is: “In this manner, the issue was decided.”
  • In his “Technique and Stability in the Fiction and Poetry of Raymond Carver” (1998), Arthur F. Bethea highlights the Latin root of the verb “decide” used in the last sentence of the story. Find out how Bethea’s argument can help you understand the story.
  • The last sentence of the story is a passive sentence (“In this manner, the issue was decided.”) Do you think this could be significant? Why? Why not?
  • According to Norman German and Jack Bedell (1998), Carver’s “Popular Mechanics” can be compared to the story of Solomon and the two mothers. Discuss to what extent you think German and Bedell’s argument can be considered valid.
  • Make a list of the major themes of the story.

© Ali Nihat Eken, Istanbul, December 2008

Relevant links: Raymond Carver’s Cathedral / Listen to “Wired for Books: Raymond Carver