What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

by

Raymond Carver

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Sunlight Symbol Analysis

Sunlight Symbol Icon

The sunlight in the kitchen as Mel, Terri, Nick, and Laura talk about love represents the four friends’ gradually diminishing clarity during their conversation. At first, the sun fills the room “like a presence […] the spacious light of ease and generosity” while the friends sip gin and tonics. The bright, direct sunlight parallels the friends’ clarity and confidence as they begin discussing love—Laura believes that “Nick and I know what love is,” and Mel declares that “I’ll tell you what real love is.” But Mel proceeds to go on an incoherent ramble about what happens to love after a breakup or a death, which only leaves Terri, Nick, and Laura confused and worried about Mel. Accordingly, the sunlight begins to dissipate as the friends get drunker and lose track of the topic at hand, mirroring their diminishing certainty about what love is.

Mel goes on to tell a personal story that he hopes will prove his point about love, but the others still don’t understand what he’s trying to say. After this, Nick immediately notes that they’re drunk and that the light has almost entirely left the room. Importantly, though, “nobody made a move to get up from the table to turn on the overhead light,” suggesting that the friends have not only moved from confidence to confusion about what love is, but that they’ve lost any hope or will to find clarity again. The story ends with Mel, Terri, Nick, and Laura having run out of ideas of what to talk about or do next, “not one of us moving, not even when the room [goes] dark.” This final image of the four friends sitting in silence in a dark room symbolizes the idea that words often fail to articulate profound truths, like the definition of love. The friends’ conversation, rather than guiding them to a solid conclusion, leaves them both literally and figuratively in the dark.

Sunlight Quotes in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

The What We Talk About When We Talk About Love quotes below all refer to the symbol of Sunlight. 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

“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:
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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love PDF

Sunlight Symbol Timeline in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

The timeline below shows where the symbol Sunlight 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
...to his friend Mel McGinnis talk—others often let Mel speak simply because he’s a cardiologist. Sunlight streams in through the big kitchen window at the home of Mel and his second... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
As the four friends clink glasses, the afternoon sun floods the McGinnises’ kitchen like a warm presence, making them feel lighthearted and relaxed. Mel... (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,... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...that perhaps he and are his friends are a little drunk by this time. The sun has dissipated out of the kitchen, yet no one gets up to turn on a... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...keep drinking, he’ll be content either way. “I could head right on out into the sunset,” he says, which prompts Laura to ask what he means. Nick says that he just... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...in a chorus of “human noise,” none of them moving even as the room goes dark. (full context)