“Popular Mechanics”: Why Less Allows More Typically a story begins with an exposition, which introduces the characters, setting and plot. In the short story “Popular Mechanics” by Raymond Carver, the exposition is excluded. The story begins with a short rise in action, moves quickly to the climax and totally omits the resolution. Carver uses third person objective narration to reveal the actions and the dialogue between a man and a woman. The narrator gives very little descriptive details, never revealing the characters’ thoughts or their motivation. This allows the reader the freedom to interpret and develop their own opinions of the setting, plot, and characters of the story. This also stimulates the reader to be an active reader—to think about what is read, to ask questions, and to respond to the authors’ style of writing.
Firstly, the narrator gives little detail throughout the whole story. The greatest amount of detail is given in the first paragraph where the narrator describes the weather. This description sets the tone and mood of the events that follow. Giving the impression that a cold, wet, miserable evening was in
the making. “But it was getting dark on the inside too” (265), this foreshadowing reveals that not only was the day coming to an end, but something else was about to end. Carver leaves further development of the setting to the imagination of the reader. It could take place in any century or in any city, state, or country. There have been male-female relationships since the beginning of time, in every corner of the world. The story is universal and timeless. This lack of detail allows readers to develop a setting that fits with their lifestyle.
Secondly, there is not an obvious exposition to give the reader exact information as to who, what, where, when or why. On the initial reading of the story the plot appears to be, simply, about a man and woman in conflict
over a baby. Carver begins with the story’s conflict, a relationship between a man and woman that has already gone extremely wrong. He does not need to tell the reader why or how this relationship came to this point. Carver relies on the reader to know the usual reasons that cause people to split up. Therefore, this gives readers the opportunity to attach their own explanation. As the title, “Popular Mechanics” implies, it is the common workings of relationships that can be applied throughout this story.
Finally, it appears that Carver does not give an adequate description of his characters. The male and the female characters in this story are flat, stock characters. Although, Carver does not use straightforward adjectives
to describe the characters, through their actions and dialogue, readers can easily identify and associate them with someone they know. Because Carver relies on commonly held gender-based stereotypes this helps the reader to create his or her own image of the characters. The need for physical or psychological description is not necessary. For example, the woman’s opening statement, “I’m glad you’re leaving! I’m glad you’re leaving! Do you hear?” (265), illustrates that she is a stereotypical, emotional female, who is out of control. Furthermore, the man’s refusal to acknowledge her illustrates a stereotypical male response to conflict. It shows that he considers her unworthy of a response. As if the same fight has occurred many times before and he knows there is no sense in replaying this scene again. The story escalates to a physical struggle over who will have the baby. Again this brings to mind the stereotypical physically aggressive male and the stereotypical manipulative female that uses a baby as an attempt to gain power and control of the relationship. Carver relies on the readers’ knowledge of these popular stereotypes instead of telling you about each character.
In conclusion, Carver ends with, “In this manner, the issue was decided.” (266). The lack of explicit detail in “Popular Mechanics” leaves the reader free to develop their own resolution. A different ending could be attached to every additional reading. Did the man take the baby? Did the
woman? Was the baby hurt or killed? Due to the lack of detail this story could be read over and over and the reader could change the setting, plot and characterization each time. Carver takes into consideration a reader’s ability to be an active reader and their ability to incorporate their own ideas into his story. Thus, the need for lengthy detailed descriptions is not necessary, only a reader’s perception and imagination is needed.