This paper explores the thematic differences and similarities between the poem “Marks” (written by Linda Pastan) and the story “Neighbors” (written by Raymond Carver in 1988). Much of the similarities and differences are clearly socially constructed, that is, derived from reality. Note that both the poem and the story are generally non-fiction narratives. Thus, it can be argued that an analysis between the similarities and differences of the two compositions need not be limited to a purely literary analysis. The concept of ‘seeking pleasure outside from oneself’ is evident in both the poem and the story.
In the poem, the overburdened mother wonders whether it is possible to leave her present condition. She said, “Wait till they learn I’m dropping out. ” This assertion bears two significant meanings. First, the mother is tired of her condition. Second, the mother is juxtaposing possibilities, possibilities that may alleviate her present condition. In the story “Neighbors,” the same can be said of the Miller couples. Unlike the Stones couple, the Miller couples are adamant to seeking meaning in life. Both Harriet and Bill Stones mix work with fun, work with fulfillment.
This is in contrast with the Miller couples who find satisfaction in life by engaging in unhealthy sexual activities and heavy workloads. The satisfaction that Jim and Arlene derive from life is something arbitrary, temporary, and often void of true meaning: “He lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. He lay for a while with his eyes closed, and then he moved his hand under his belt. He tried to recall what day it was. He tried to remember when the Stones were due back, and then he wondered if they would ever return. He could not remember their faces or the way they talked and dressed.
He sighed and with effort rolled off the bed to lean over the dresser and look at himself in the mirror” (p. 139). Here, the Miller couple finds incomplete satisfaction by engaging in external activities. The means by which the concept “seeking pleasure outside from oneself’” is utilized in the two compositions differed significantly. First, note that the ‘satisfaction’ derived by the mother is artificial whilst that of the Miller couple is ‘real. ’ It is artificial in two respects. First, satisfaction here is ‘momentary. ’ Second, the satisfaction does not manifest materially.
However, it can be argued that the desire of the mother to escape from her present condition is more pronounced than the desire of the Miller couple to get satisfaction from life, because it is, in essence, an impossible desire. The conditions of the mother are essentially derived from her status as a housewife whilst that of the couple from irrational choice. Unlike the mother, the Miller couple, or at least Bill, has a choice – a choice to change their lifestyle: “In the bedroom again, he sat on a chair, crossed his legs, observing himself in the mirror.
The telephone rand twice and fell silent … He stepped into the panties and fastened the brassiere, then looked through the closet for an outfit. He put on a black and white checkered shirt and tried to zip it up … He considered her shoes, but understood they would not fit. For a long time he looked out the living room window from behind the curtain. Then he returned to the bedroom and put everything away” (p. 139) – italics mine. Bill does not shut reality; he is merely making reality a part of himself. Bill accepts reality but never attempts to change it.
Both the poem and the story differentiate reality and absurdity. The poem can be interpreted in two ways. First, the poem describes the conditions of an overburdened mother. Second, it describes the utmost desire of the mother to escape from her present condition. The first interpretation defines reality. The second one defines absurdity. Reality here does not necessarily refer to objective reality; it may refer to a general perception of the reference individual. From the point of view of the mother, she is experiencing difficulties associated with motherhood.
Absurdity here refers to a general meaninglessness (in terms of concreteness) in life. From the point of view of the Millers, life is meaningless and devoid of hope. Note here that the story can also be interpreted in two ways. The story describes the inadequacy of seeking pleasure outside from oneself. The story also describes the desire of the couple to find true meaning in life. Absurdity here is manifested by a general indecisiveness on the part of the Miller couple. Absurdity is manifested in the poem in the general inconclusiveness of the overburdened mother.
In any case, the two compositions clearly show the difference between reality and absurdity. There is no single word to describe either reality or absurdity in the two compositions. Only a careful examination of both the poem and the story render a possible examination of the two concepts. However, one should note that reference to reality is needed to define absurdity, for absurdity does not exist apart from reality. Only through reality can multiple meanings develop. Thus, reality provides meanings to a particular phenomenon. The existence of reality precedes the essence of ambiguity.