In Why Don’t You Dance by Raymond Carver we have the theme of connection. Taken from his What We Talk About When We Talk About Love collection the story is narrated in the third person and begins with an unnamed man pouring himself a glass of whiskey in his kitchen. He is looking out into his yard where he has placed his bedroom and living room furniture, along with other items from the house. Though it is clear to the reader that the man is having a yard sale we are not fully sure as to why he is selling all his possessions. We do however get a hint that his wife may have left him and that he is moving on (or being forced to move on). As he drinks the whiskey he notices people driving by and slowing down to look at the items for sale in the yard, however no one stops to buy anything and the man thinks to himself that he wouldn’t stop either. We are never told as to why the man thinks this way but it may be because people view the items in the yard as being part of someone else’s life, an unhappy or desperate life.
When Jack and his girlfriend (unnamed) see the yard sale they stop to have a look. They are looking for some furniture to furnish their apartment (new beginnings). They get comfortable in the yard with Jack sitting down to look at the TV (everything is powered in the yard) while his girlfriend lies on the bed. Jack moves over to the bed and kisses his girlfriend before getting up to check to see if the owner is around. He is interested in buying the TV and the bed and his girlfriend tells him to offer ten dollars below the asking price. What is also interesting is she tells Jack ‘And besides, they must be desperate or something.’ This statement is important because it mirrors the readers own suspicions that the man is desperate to move on, something (unknown) has occurred in his life causing the need for change.
When Jack sees the man he asks him how much he wants for the bed and the TV. The man names his price and Jack offers him (as instructed by his girlfriend) ten dollars below the price. The man doesn’t haggle with Jack and accepts his offer. After they have agreed a price for the bed and TV, the man offers Jack and his girlfriend a drink (there is a strong possibility that the man is an alcoholic, as he is seen drinking throughout the story). As they are drinking, Jack asks the man how much he wants for the desk. The man tells Jack to name his price and as he is looking at Jack and his girlfriend he notices something about their faces ‘It was nice or it was nasty. There was no telling.’ This is important because the man is attempting to make some sort of connection with Jack and his girlfriend something that is further highlighted when the man asks Jack’s girlfriend to put on a record.
Despite the man trying to make a connection it is obvious when Jack’s girlfriend picks one of the records to play that she is very different from him. The girl doesn’t recognise any of the names on the records so just randomly picks any record to play. As the music is playing the man asks Jack and his girlfriend to dance. At first Jack is hesitant but he is soon holding his girlfriend and dancing (idea of connection with each other). After Jack has danced with his girlfriend she asks the man to dance with her (again the idea of connection). Again Carver brings in the idea of desperation when the Jack’s girlfriend pushes her face into the man’s shoulder and says to him ‘You must be desperate or something.’ This is important because though they are dancing (or making some type of connection), Jack’s girlfriend is unsure of who the man is (what his story is or why he is selling everything). Like the reader, Jack’s girlfriend does not have a full understanding of the man’s situation.
Carver ends Why Don’t You Dance with Jack’s girlfriend, several weeks later, telling a friend about the man at the yard sale. She shows her friend the records and the record player that he gave them and tells her ‘Will you look at this shit?’ Despite it being clear that Jack’s girlfriend is mocking the man she is still trying to understand what he was about, who he was, why he was selling everything. In essence she, like the man, is trying to make some sort of connection or at least trying to understand who the man was.