What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

by

Raymond Carver

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Mel McGinnis Character Analysis

Mel is Terri’s husband and Nick and Laura’s friend. He’s a tall, 45-year-old man with curly hair. The story takes place in Mel and Terri’s kitchen in Albuquerque, where the two couples are drinking gin and discussing the meaning of love. Mel, who’s a cardiologist, is confident that he knows what “real love” is. Having been harassed and threatened by Terri’s unstable ex, Ed, in the past, Mel is now adamant that violence and love are entirely separate. This viewpoint sparks a disagreement with Terri that persists throughout the story, as she believes that Ed truly loved her in spite of his physical and verbal abuse. However certain Mel is about what love isn’t, he struggles in vain to arrive at a clear definition of what love is. He incoherently rambles about his thoughts on the matter, embarrassing his wife and confusing his friends. And as Mel monopolizes the conversation, it becomes increasingly clear that although the meaning of love is deeply important to him, his ideas are muddled and inconsistent. Additionally, it seems that violence and love aren’t as neatly compartmentalized for Mel as he’d like to think: in addition to his frequent spats with Terri throughout the conversation, he shares fantasies of being a medieval knight who captures women and of murdering his ex-wife, Marjorie. As the story draws to a close, Mel falls silent and dejectedly rests his head in his hands, his former confidence having evaporated as Terri, Nick, and Laura have thoroughly misunderstood the points he’s tried to make. Mel’s failure to articulate his deeply held beliefs about love and his ensuing frustration points to the inadequacy of language to convey profound truths.

Mel McGinnis Quotes in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

The What We Talk About When We Talk About Love quotes below are all either spoken by Mel McGinnis or refer to Mel McGinnis. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Library of America edition of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love published in 2009.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Quotes

“He was dangerous,” Mel said. “If you call that love, you can have it.”

“It was love,” Terri said. “Sure, it’s abnormal in most people’s eyes. But he was willing to die for it. He did die for it.”

“I sure as hell wouldn’t call it love,” Mel said. “I mean, no one knows what he did it for. I’ve seen a lot of suicides, and I couldn’t say anyone ever knew what they did it for.”

Mel put his hands behind his neck and tilted his chair back. “I’m not interested in that kind of love,” he said. “If that’s love, you can have it.”

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Terri, Ed (Terri’s ex-boyfriend), Nick, Laura
Page Number: 313
Explanation and Analysis:

“Well, Nick and I know what love is,” Laura said. “For us, I mean,” Laura said. She bumped my knee with her knee. “You’re supposed to say something now,” Laura said, and turned her smile on me.

For an answer, I took Laura’s hand and raised it to my lips. I made a big production out of kissing her hand. Everyone was amused.

“We’re lucky,” I said.

Related Characters: Laura (speaker), Nick (speaker), Mel McGinnis, Terri, Ed (Terri’s ex-boyfriend)
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’ll tell you what real love is,” Mel said. “I mean, I’ll give you a good example. And then you can draw your own conclusions.” He poured more gin into his glass. He added an ice cube and a sliver of lime. We waited and sipped our drinks. Laura and I touched knees again. I put a hand on her warm thigh and left it there.

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Laura, Nick, Terri
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

“But sometimes I have a hard time accounting for the fact that I must have loved my first wife too. But I did, I know I did. So I suppose I am like Terri in that regard. Terri and Ed.” He thought about it and then he went on. “There was a time when I thought I loved my first wife more than life itself. But now I hate her guts. I do. How do you explain that? What happened to that love? What happened to it, is what I’d like to know. I wish someone could tell me. Then there’s Ed. Okay, we’re back to Ed. He loves Terri so much he tries to kill her and he winds up killing himself.”

Page Number: 315
Explanation and Analysis:

“Am I wrong? Am I way off base? Because I want you to set me straight if you think I’m wrong. I want to know. I mean, I don’t know anything, and I’m the first one to admit it.”

“Mel, for God’s sake,” Terri said. She reached out and took hold of his wrist. “Are you getting drunk? Honey? Are you drunk?”

“Honey, I’m just talking,” Mel said. “All right? I don’t have to be drunk to say what I think. I mean, we’re all just talking, right?” Mel said. He fixed his eyes on her.

“Sweetie, I’m not criticizing,” Terri said.

She picked up her glass.

“I’m not on call today,” Mel said. “Let me remind you of that. I am not on call,” he said.

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Terri (speaker), Nick, Laura
Page Number: 315-316
Explanation and Analysis:

“If I could come back again in a different life, a different time and all, you know what? I’d like to come back as a knight. You were pretty safe wearing all that armor. It was all right being a knight until gunpowder and muskets and pistols came along.”

“Mel would like to ride a horse and carry a lance,” Terri said.

“Carry a woman’s scarf with you everywhere,” Laura said.

“Or just a woman,” Mel said.

“Shame on you,” Laura said.

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Terri (speaker), Laura (speaker)
Page Number: 318
Explanation and Analysis:

“Vassals,” Terri said.

“What?” Mel said.

“Vassals,” Terri said. “They were called vassals, not vessels.”

“Vassals, vessels,” Mel said, “what the fuck’s the difference? You knew what I meant anyway. All right,” Mel said. “So I’m not educated. I learned my stuff. I’m a heart surgeon, sure, but I’m just a mechanic. I go in and I fuck around and I fix things. Shit,” Mel said.

Related Characters: Terri (speaker), Mel McGinnis (speaker), Nick, Laura
Page Number: 318
Explanation and Analysis:

“Well, the husband was very depressed for the longest while. Even after he found out that his wife was going to pull through, he was still very depressed. Not about the accident, though. I mean, the accident was one thing, but it wasn’t everything. I’d get up to his mouth-hole, you know, and he’d say no, it wasn’t the accident exactly but it was because he couldn’t see her through his eye-holes. He said that was what was making him feel so bad. Can you imagine? I’m telling you, the man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his goddamn head and see his goddamn wife.”

Mel looked around the table and shook his head at what he was going to say.

“I mean, it was killing the old fart just because he couldn’t look at the fucking woman.”

We all looked at Mel.

“Do you see what I’m saying?” he said.

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Terri, Nick, Laura
Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:

“There isn’t a day goes by that Mel doesn’t say he wishes she’d get married again. Or else die,” Terri said. “For one thing,” Terri said, “she’s bankrupting us. Mel says it’s just to spite him that she won’t get married again. She has a boyfriend who lives with her and the kids, so Mel is supporting the boyfriend too.”

“She’s allergic to bees,” Mel said. “If I’m not praying she’ll get married again, I’m praying she’ll get herself stung to death by a swarm of Ricking bees.”

“Shame on you,” Laura said.

“Bzzzzzzz,” Mel said, turning his fingers into bees and buzzing them at Terri’s throat. Then he let his hands drop all the way to his sides.

Related Characters: Terri (speaker), Mel McGinnis (speaker), Laura (speaker), Marjorie (Mel’s ex-wife), Nick
Page Number: 321
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’ll put out some cheese and crackers,” Terri said.

But Terri just sat there. She did not get up to get anything. Mel turned his glass over. He spilled it out on the table. “Gin’s gone,” Mel said.

Terri said, “Now what?”

I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.

Related Characters: Terri (speaker), Mel McGinnis (speaker), Nick, Laura
Related Symbols: Sunlight
Page Number: 321-322
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire What We Talk About When We Talk About Love LitChart as a printable PDF.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love PDF

Mel McGinnis Character Timeline in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

The timeline below shows where the character Mel McGinnis appears in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The narrator (whose name is later revealed to be Nick) is listening to his friend Mel McGinnis talk—others often let Mel speak simply because he’s a cardiologist. Sunlight streams in through... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Terri shares that her ex-boyfriend, whom she lived with before Mel, tried to kill her because he loved her so much. One night, the boyfriend beat... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Mel tells Nick and Laura that Terri’s ex-boyfriend threatened to kill him. Finishing his drink, Mel... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Mel asks Nick and Laura what they think, and Nick replies that he wouldn’t know—he never... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
...tried to kill himself by drinking rat poison. He survived but had permanent gum damage. Mel adds that Ed is dead now, and Terri remarks that Ed also botched his second... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Mel tells Nick and Laura that Ed had used a .22 caliber pistol to shoot himself—the... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Laura urges Mel to get back to the topic of the botched suicide. At this point, Nick gives... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Mel continues his story: Ed shot himself in mouth in the hotel room where he was... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...was in the room with Ed when he died—no one else was there for him. Mel repeats that Ed was dangerous, but Terri insists that she knows Ed loved her because... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...they’ve been together for a year and a half. “Just wait,” Terri jokes. Just then, Mel returns and opens the new bottle of gin, fills everyone’s glasses, and leads them in... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...sun floods the McGinnises’ kitchen like a warm presence, making them feel lighthearted and relaxed. Mel declares that he’ll tell the others “what real love is,” and then they can come... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Finally, Mel goes on a long diatribe about love. He says that he loves Terri, and Nick... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
After Mel finishes rambling, Terri grasps his wrist and asks him if he’s drunk. Mel snaps back... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Next, Mel declares that he’s going to tell them all a story from a few months ago,... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Mel continues that he was on call at the hospital on the night of this accident.... (full context)
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Getting back to his story, Mel says that when he arrived at the hospital, he and a group of other doctors... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Switching to a different tangent, Mel shares that if he could live in a different time, he’d be a medieval knight.... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Terri interrupts to point out that Mel said “vessels” when he meant “vassals.” Irritated, Mel rebuts that they all knew what he... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The sunlight in the room has grown dimmer. Laura and Nick urge Mel to continue his story, and Terri jokes that the old couple is just “older but... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Finally, Mel relents, telling everyone how he would check in on the old couple every day while... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...dissipated out of the kitchen, yet no one gets up to turn on a light. Mel encourages everyone to take a shot of gin so they can finish the bottle and... (full context)
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Mel abruptly asks whether the others mind if he calls his children. Terri asks what he’ll... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Terri shares that Mel constantly talks about how he wishes Marjorie would either remarry or die, since Mel’s alimony... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Then, Mel slowly crosses one leg over the other, props his elbows on the table, and rest... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...out some cheese and crackers, although she stays seated instead of going to get them. Mel flips his glass over, spilling the drink onto the table, and declares that the gin... (full context)