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Raymond Carver’s “Feathers”

A peacock named Joey, a hideous baby, long blonde hair, and a mold of ugly teeth atop a TV—with such strange elements at the surface of Raymond Carver’s “Feathers,” it’s easy to lose sight of the simple, yet powerful story of change that lurks below.

The narrator Jack looks back at a time his work colleague Bud invited him and his wife Fran to his house for a country dinner. Fran is reluctant to attend and prefers a quiet, private life with her partner— no interest in meeting new people or starting a family. Jack generally shares this sentiment and the two have a close bond through quiet, intimate conversations. They adore one another’s company.

A playful tick of their relationship is Fran’s long blond hair, which Jack reveals at length affection for. “She knows I like it too much. She knows I’m crazy about it. I tell her I fell in love with her because of her hair.” He even tells Fran he might stop loving her if she cuts it. At surface, this appears another small element of their quiet relationship; Fran’s hair, however, proves a contentious symbol of change in their lives with the dinner at Bud’s acting as catalyst.

Bud’s marriage to Olla is filled with the hectic nuances that are hallmarks of any Carver work. A restless 8-month old baby and flippant, aggressive Peacock have created a distance between the husband and wife. Bud concerts effort at keeping Joey from coming in the house with his guests. Inside, Olla keeps busy in the kitchen or with the baby and the couple is rarely in the same room together.

Much of the night operates under this dynamic: the lurking peacock fighting to get inside and the baby hidden away somewhere in the house. Bud and Olla tend to these distractions while still trying to entertain company, often leaving Jack and Fran alone to themselves.

The tension reaches a head after dinner when Olla shows off the baby to Fran and Bud let’s Joey in the house. Initially, Fran is just interested in seeing the baby, but her affection slowly grows as she moves from simply looking at it, to holding it, then talking baby talk to it. Finally, “she was giving all her attention to the baby.”

Carver brilliantly ties the peacock into this moment: Joey slowly moves from the living room into the kitchen—each step coinciding with Fran’s escalating infatuation with the baby. At last, all the motifs culminate: Fran’s hair, the peacock, and the baby. “The baby stared her with its pop eyes. Then it reached and got itself a baby handful of Fran’s blond hair. The peacock stepped closer to the table. None of us said anything. We just sat still. Baby Harold saw the bird. It let go of Fran’s hair and stood up on her lap.”

This bird of paradise has now planted the idea of a family in Fran. Jack and her leave feeling good about almost everything in life. Nine months later, they welcome a baby into their lives. Fran has also cut her hair. “Later, after things had changed for us, the kid had come along, all of that, Fran would look back on that evening at Bud’s place as the beginning of the change.”

 

Carver, Raymond. Cathedral New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1989. Print.