In Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” (1836) and Carver’s “What We Talk about When We Talk About Love” (1981), both writers implement their genre and style of writing on how the couple in their short fictions interacting and treating their love relationship. It is also depicting how their styles of writing fiction affecting the love relationship between the couples in the story—Mr. Hoper and his fiancée, Elizabeth in Hawthorne’s fiction and Mel McGinnis and his second wife, Teresa in Carver’s fiction. Moreover, it makes the couples in these two different stories having very different characteristics toward his/her own partner caused by two factors: the different genre and style of these two writers and the different cultural-historical background.
In “The Minister’s Black Veil”, Hawthorne presents the female character, Minister Hoper’s wife, Elizabeth, as a disloyal pledged wife when she decided to leave Hooper in his misery in the middle of social exclusion (6). Regarding that this Hawthorne’s fiction is one of the romanticism fictions in that time, the story having a tendency to become a heroic story and it is supported by the endless misery of the main character. Moreover, in order to dramatize the misery of the main character, Hawthorne makes the depiction of Elizabeth as a betrayer and a weak girl. By making that depiction, on the other hand, the reader will have an assumption that the Minister Hooper as a heroic, idealistic and sympathy needed character and made him the victim of his fiancée too.
Her disloyalty and weakness are also presented when Elizabeth is crying after she cannot convince her fiancée to unveil his black veil and then leave him forever (6). It is quite illogical how a minister’s pledged wife just leaves him after only one failure trial of convincing her fiancée. While, as we know that for Christian believers, moreover for a minister like Mr. Hopper, doing such a thing could become a big dishonor but, it seems like it doesn’t becoming a serious problem for them. Even, after that conversation that leads to Elizabeth departure, no one of them is trying to find each other in order to searching for the way out to save their future marriage. This illogical situation, once again, is one of the results from the romanticism influence of this story which more concerning imagination over reason and intuition over the fact (Manggong: 2016) as long as the story can be built as interesting as it can be.
On the other hand, if we analyze from the cultural and historical background, the way they lived their love relationship is quite relevant with the American condition in that time when the toleration was not that popular and having a real impact like it does nowadays. If this story happened in the America lately, Hooper’s choice to wear the black veil over his face would not become that controversial as in 1836. Elizabeth and the other townspeople would not exclude him with his progressive views that actually could not fit with the American values in those years. It is also relevant to Randa G. Keeley argument which is written on her thesis “Merging The Public And Private Spheres: The Representation Of Gender In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”,”The Minister’s Black Veil,” And “The Birth-Mark”:
“This fits in with what has already been stated in this paper in regard to humiliation, because it seems that Hooper is unable to convince the remaining townspeople of his progressive views. Consequently, he has been embarrassed in his profession because he is an unsuccessful minister, but even more he is unsuccessful in relationships as well against mid-nineteenth-century standards.” (Keeley: 42-43)
Besides the toleration issue, another cultural background which is affected this couple’s love relationship in this story is the feminism. In 1836, the American woman emancipation movement had a big impact on the American society that time in spite of the fact that the movement is not as massive as the first wave of the United States feminism movement, twelve years later in 1848. The majority of Americans who joined the antislavery and woman’s rights causes in the 1830s—in many cases the same individuals—came usually from deeply religious, reform-oriented families. That historical fact supported the theory that Hawthorne’s depict the couple, Father Hooper and Elizabeth as the feminist that is indicated by their deeply religious background, especially, Father Hooper as a progressive-viewed minister.
On the other hand, we may have an assumption that the male-centric and male-domination issues of this story affect the couple, but actually, it is only caused by the heroism of the male main character, Mr. Hooper. More than that, Hawthorne also implied the other feminism implementation on Mr. Hooper – Elizabeth love relationship like the other romanticism fiction that is having some implicit symbols. This Hawthorne style of writing also supported by the argument of Randa G. Keeley who wrote the thesis about three Hawthorne’s short stories and one of them is The Minister’s Black Veil. She argues in her thesis:
“The men in Hawthorne’s stories are governed by their egos and as a result are unable to leave behind contemporary mid-nineteenth-century values that stand in their way of establishing a more progressive society. Likewise, each story depicts female characters that are malleable and easily adjust to the changes in society. Therefore, Hawthorne seems to favor women in his stories, and more specifically their gendered character, over the men.” (Keeley: 65)
While in “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love”, we can see a whole big different type of lover couple from the previous couple in “The Minister’s Black Veil” short story. The different is caused by the two factors that were mentioned before: the different genre of these two short stories and also the cultural and historical background difference. Like Hawthorne’s “Minister Black Veil”, this Carver’s fiction also depicting the couple as the part of the genre, style, and cultural and historical background representation.
In the Carver’s fiction, actually, there are five couples that involved in the story. They are Mel McGinnis and his second wife, Terri; Nick the narrator and his, wife Laura; Teri and his former boyfriend, Ed; Mel and his former wife, Marjorie; and the old couple who became Mel’s patients. From all those five couples, Mel McGinnis and his second wife, Terri is the most dominant couple character in this short story and could be analyzed deeper than the other couples. They become the most dominant couple is caused by the genre of this short story, the contemporary genre which doesn’t have any heroic or anti-heroic character like the Minister’s Black Veil has. Because of it, the focus of the story would be topic-centric rather than a certain-character-centric. As the result, Mel McGinnis and Terri having the largest portion to affect the story because they are more experienced on the topic of the story, which is love, rather than Nick and Laura—in spite of Nick himself is the narrator of the story.
On the other hand, Mel and Terri love relationship, analyzed from the genre of the story, is far more realistic than the Mr. Hooper and Elizabeth love relationship. Despite that he is considered as the contemporary fiction writer, Carver included some realism value in some of his works that make the story become more realistic rather than blurring the lines of reality and mixing the fantasy and nonfiction like the common contemporary works. That argument is relevant to Brian Charles Seemann’s argument in his Thesis:
“Carvers status in American literature comes from the credit he receives for rejuvenating the short story in the latter part of the twentieth century alongside other writers admired for their realistic viewpoints and the inclination to capture an arresting essence of life drawn from classic realism.” (Seemann: 1)
Carver’s style of writing that influenced by classic realism made the couple in the short story seems to be more faithful and tolerance to each other. Different from Elizabeth and Hooper, Mel and Terri represented the common couple in the real life. Like the other realism fiction, the story is told like it was, focus on lives of ordinary people and rejected heroic and adventurous (Manggong, 2016). In this story, even Mel and Terri having so many disagreements, they still love each other because the high toleration like the other American people nowadays. In so many occasions, Mel argued his wife, but after that, immediately he shows his affection towards her:
“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.” (4)
But actually, that is the reality and the common sense of love when someone would not stop to love his partner because of one clash in an occasion. Oppositely from the unrealistic relationship of Hooper and Elizabeth, Mel and Terri having the tendency to be more tolerant and more forgivable to each other.
Related to the historical and cultural background, Carver presented Terri as someone who has a big impact on her relationship. Relevance to the rise of woman’s right by time to time until nowadays on the top of the amount of existence, on this Carver’s fiction, a woman is depicted far more independent and stronger than the depiction of Elizabeth in Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil”. Seemann in his argument in his thesis that supported the theory of feminism in the Carver’s fiction:
“Characters react to conflict and despair in an assortment of ways, but one identifiable trait in many stories throughout each collection is the determination and intuitiveness of women … feminine impact evolves throughout Carver’s work, and looking at these women creates a better awareness of the effect gender has in Carver’s stories” (Seemann: 3)
Terri depicted as someone who can keep her point of view, nonetheless of her husband disagreement when they are talking about love. She also in several occasions, is depicted stronger and more mature than her husband, mainly while they are drunk. While Mel is getting drunker that caused the cursing and digressing while he talked, Terri seems to be having more control to her consciences, even she is trying to take care of her husband, yet she is in the middle of drinking the alcohol too.
As the conclusion, by comparing both short stories, Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” and Carver’s “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love”, firstly, we can conclude that two contradictive genres of these two short stories—romanticism and contemporary-classical realism, making the characteristics of the couple toward his/her own partner are different. As the result, the couple characteristic in the Carver’s short story is far more common and make-sense than the couple in the Hawthorne’s short story. Secondly, the two massive different historical and cultural backgrounds also affected how the couples’ characteristics are built. Considering that Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” is written in 1836 while Carver’s “What We Talk about When We Talk About Love” is written in 1981, makes each of the stories have the different American society value—especially related to feminism and toleration issues. Even in the early nineteenth century, the period when Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” is written, some of feminism and toleration movement is promoted and having the real impact on the American society, the period when Carver’s fiction is written is even giving the feminism and toleration movement at their best that never reached before. It makes the female in the couple, Terri in Carver’s fiction having a big influence in her relationship unlike Elizabeth in Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil”.
Carver, Raymond. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. 1981. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1982.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Minister’s Black Veil.” Comp. Roy Harvey Pearce. Nathaniel Hawthorne:Tales and Sketches. New York: NY: The Library of America, 1996.
Keeley, Randa G. “Merging the Public and Private Spheres: The Representation of Gender in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” “The Minister’s Black Veil,” and “The Birth-Mark”.” Order No. 1499030 Texas A&M University – Commerce, 2008. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 21 June 2016.
Lestari Manggong. “Week 1, Literature in America: Nineteenth Century to Contemporary Period.” American Literature Lecture. Universitas Padjajaran, Jatinangor. 2016. Lecture.
Seemann, Brian Charles. “”what is it?”: Exploring the Roles of Women Throughout Raymond Carver’s Short Fiction.” Order No. 1439078 Wichita State University, 2006. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 21 June 2016.