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In Rose Tremain‘s story “John-Jin” follows the adolescence of the main character, Susan. Susan is closest with her brother, John-Jin who was adopted when she was a little girl. Her parents constantly wished for a son that they could call their own, and once they got him, they were ecstatic. However, when her parents found that their son was not growing at the same rate as other children, they started doing everything they could to increase his growth. When the only option was injecting him with growth hormones, they began weekly treatments.

As the story progresses, the reader finds that these injections lead John-Jin to be infected with Creutzfeldt and Jacob, which is a form of mad cow disease, which renders the body helpless. In this story, John-Jin is stuck, unable to move, and completely reliant on his mother and father for help. As Susan looks back on her memories of her brother, she walks on the pier where the girder with his name stands.

“I imagined John-Jin’s girder underneath me. I wondered, in my rage, if you took that one piece away, would everything fall?”

In the very last sentences of the story, the anger Susan has toward the situation overwhelms her. The reader starts to see how important John-Jin was to her as she begins to imagine what it will be like without him. This is especially apparent when she starts thinking of the girder that helps support the pier and keep it together. However, when the girder is printed with his name on it, it begins to represent John-Jin and the ways in which he helped keep the family together after they had been trying to conceive for years.

Don’t ask for a thing unless you know precisely and absolutely what it is you’re going to get and how you’re going to get it.

After years and years of wishing for another child, Susan’s family finally had their prayers answered. They were able to adopt a young boy named John-Jin. John-Jin wasn’t like most other children, he had problems growing and was prescribed growth hormones. These growth hormones helped him grow, but they eventually had a very negative effect on John-Jin’s body. Ten years after taking hormones, John-Jin became very ill. Doctors then discovered that the hormones that he had once taken contained a deadly disease, called CJD. This disease led to John-Jin’s death at the young age of twelve. John-Jin was all that Susan’s parents had ever wanted, and they never imagined it ending so tragically and losing their adopted child at such a young age. Susan always felt some sort of resentment towards John-Jin because her parents had focused all of their time and effort on him in order to get him in better health. When she was a young girl awaiting a new brother, she never imagined having someone like John-Jin in the family. While her parent’s got the son the had always dreamed of, it didn’t turn out the way any of them expected.

Inside the Pier Pavilion were far more things goings on than you could imagine from the outside; it was like a human mind in this one respect.

In  Rose Tremain’s “John-Jin,” the narrator’s parents adopt John-Jin after he is abandoned as a baby in a women’s toilet. Susan, the narrator, doesn’t know much about John-Jin at first; she is curious about where he came from. Her mother says, “The details don’t matter, love, what matters is that he’s with us now. We’ve waited for him for ten years and here he is.” Susan grows to love him — she tries to tell him about the world and dances in front of him, which leads him to imitate her. As he gets older, they realize John-Jin isn’t developing like the other children. They take John-Jin to a specialist, who gives him growth hormones. After ten years, they discover that those growth hormones have caused John-Jin to get Creutzfeldt and Jacob Disease (CJD).  Susan explains how her parents asked for “something” to make John-Jin grow, but they didn’t specify what that “something” was. Fortunately, they get what they were hoping for; unfortunately, this requires John-Jin to be injected with growth hormones — which led John-Jin to acquire CJD. While his mother first said that the details don’t matter, they did in fact matter in the end.

“The Pier Pavilion was there and then not. There and then not. And that happens to certain things and I don’t know why.”

This passage in Rose Tremain’s short story “John-Jin” resonates with me. Often life can leave you bruised and broken, wondering why and how things have become what they are. Things, people, destinations, and feelings are there and then not. We, human beings, are there and then not. The main protagonist, Susan, experiences an event we all know well: “The Ask.” The Ask, being  the will of an individual, the prayer, the hope for something or someone. She also experiences “The answer,” something we often know as the miracle, the good news, the “I told you so.”  We rejoice and acclimate, so does Susan’s family– they have John- Jin– there is happiness. Life is normal and it is great, until you realize that there are repercussions to all that you’ve asked for or received.

The human experience has tragedy; the ask is not exempt from that. No one is exempt from that. We become comfortable and then we are shaken, for Susan and her family, it is the disease dormant in John-Jin for ten years, the realization that they allowed the unknown to cloud them and that they have to endure the repercussions to their ask.  For us, the repercussions  are any number of things equally devastating and heavy to bear. To receive can be grand; it can also be  distressing. What happens now?  Why?

Life is unpredictable and so are human circumstances, to receive an unseen repercussion does not mean to give up your ask, to stop your fight or will to live. It is to be human, to love and to let go. Certain things happen and we do not know why and that is okay.


Don’t ask for a thing unless you know precisely and absolutely what it is you’re going to get and how you’re going to get it.

Rose Tremain’s short story, “John-Jin” is about a young girl whose parents adopt a child named John-Jin who was found “left wrapped in a football scarf in a women’s toilet.” John-Jin is abnormally short for his age, so his parents decide to take him to the doctor, where they give him injections to make him grow. A couple of years later, they find out that John-Jin has a disease called CJD. He gets this disease because of the injections that they give him. The narrator talks about how she goes to play golf with her father, and they make wishes on the wishing well. She says that she wishes for things like wings or a trampoline, when all along her father wishes for John-Jin. The narrator talks to her father about how he knows that John-Jin is coming, and he tells her that he just always knew that he would show up. He did not know how at the time, but he knew that he would. In the quote above, the narrator says that she has learned that you don’t ask for a thing unless you know precisely and absolutely what it is you’re going to get and how you’re going to get it. She is talking about how the father had wished for John-Jin but he did not know what or how he was going to get him. Then they ask for the doctors to make their son taller, but he ends up getting a life-threatening illness. She also talks about how you can never get something back once it is gone. Both of these ways of thinking are how the narrator has been affected by John-Jin and how John-jin has changed her life when they had took him in.

“John-Jin,” by Rose Tremain, is an interesting story about a girl, Susan, whose parents adopt an abandoned Chinese boy named John-Jin. We first hear about John-Jin when Susan is describing  how her and her father always went to the Pavilion on the pier and played miniature golf. When they played, no matter who one, they always made a wish at the wishing well. She says that her wishes changed over time, but her father always wished for John-Jin. Of course we know he wasn’t exactly wishing for him, but for a son in general that they felt a strong pull to. John-Jin was an unusual boy in that he did not grow at the average rate. Even through this, Susan and John-Jin develop a very loving and caring connection. She looks after him and tells him about the world, showing much attention to him. In trying to help him grow, the parents get John-Jin into treatments of growth-hormones. This leads to him getting a disease called CJD, more commonly known as mad-cow disease. John-Jin dies at the age of 12 from these injections that were supposed to improve his quality of life.  The last sentence of this story says “I wondered, in my range, if you took that one piece (the girder with John-Jin’s name on it) away, would everything fall?”  This statement gives a look into how Susan felt about her families dynamic before and after John-Jin. Just like the pier that was once fully standing with no flaws, Susan once had a fully intact family. Maybe she didn’t like the fact that her parents said that they were waiting for John-Jin for so long, and now that he is dead, she feels as if everything is falling apart.

“I imagined John-Jin’s girder underneath me. I wondered, in my rage, if you took that one piece away, would everything fall?”

In Rose Tremain’s “John-Jin,” a young girl tells the story of her family’s quest to fulfill their dream family. As a young child, she remembers the times of going to the pier, where she would wish for little small things at the wishing well with her father. Her father wishes for the same thing each time, a son. His wish comes true when an abandoned Chinese baby is found. When they adopt John-Jin, they feel as if their family is complete. In celebration of the new child, Susan’s parents buy a girder with John-Jin’s name on it to help with the repair of the pier, which is special to them, as well as, the townspeople. As John-Jin gets older, Susan’s parents notice that he is not growing at a normal rate. They take him to a specialist, who prescribes him growth hormones. The family is overjoyed when John-Jin begins to grow taller. Things appear to be falling into place with Susan and her family because of this, but everything does not appear as they seem. Years past, the pier that was once broken has been repaired and back in full swing; John-Jin, Susan, and their parents feel satisfied in the path that their life is taking them. Ten years later, what Susan and her family thought was a positive solution has a negative effect. Because of the growth hormones John-Jin becomes infected with CJD. Because of the disease, he loses his ability to move. Was the price for height worth it? Not at all. In the last scene with John-Jin, Susan realizes how blessed and grateful she should be for her ability to dance. She treasures this ability but wishes better for John-Jin. It is in her final statement, she sees that just when things were seen as going in the right direction, one small thing causes everything to crumble and fall. Therefore, the girder symbolizes her family, their quest for a solution to help John-Jin, the solution appearing to have a positive impact, but the slow deterioration that causes everything to fall apart.

He’d been left wrapped in a football scarf in a woman’s toilet in Wetherby. He’d been found and taken to a hospital and christened John-Jin by the nurses there. How he came to be ours was a story nobody told me then.

This short story by Rose Tremain is about a girl named Susan who tells about her adopted brother John-Jin. John-Jin was abandoned in a bathroom as a baby when someone found him. He was taken to the hospital and was then later adopted by Susan’s parents. She tells about how she admired John-Jin and he flat face as a child. But later in the story, John-Jin developed everything a child would normally have, except he wouldn’t grow. They took him to doctor after doctor wondering what was wrong with him, but they all said he was just a late bloomer and “his people” are naturally short anyway. Eventually, Susan’s parents took him to a specialist where they injected him with growth hormones to help him grow. The growth hormones started to take effect and then John-Jin started growing taller. Unfortunately, the growth hormones that John-Jin was injected with had a disease that caused paralysis in his body, eventually causing him to die. The narrator also talks about a pier, that was broken and was repaired with contributors helping pay for the rebuilding. Susan’s parents decided to have John-Jin’s name in the pier. At the end of the story, the narrator contemplates whether or not if she took out the plate where John-Jin’s name was, would the whole pier collapse, possibly thinking to herself that if one family member dies, does that mean the whole family collapses?

In the short story “Are These Actual Miles?” by Raymond Carver,  Leo, and his wife, Toni, are trying to sell their convertible because they are bankrupt. Leo met Toni while she was selling children’s encyclopedias from door to door. Leo bought some from her even though he didn’t have kids. They went on a date and later married. As a result of their excessive spending habits, they have to sell their car before they go to court on Monday. They will be asked questions and will have to sign papers; if they kept the car it would be retained by the court. In this short story, I found dishonesty to be one of the main themes. Dishonesty is shown through the cracks of Leo and Toni’s marriage.

One example of dishonesty is when Leo brings a woman home while his family is visiting his mother. When Toni is ready, Leo walks her outside onto porch when he sees his neighbor, Ernest Williams, across the street watering his plants. Leo has a flashback to,

Once last winter, during the holidays, when Toni and the kids were visiting his mother’s, Leo brought a woman home.

The next morning, Leo walks the woman to her car when he sees Ernest Williams outside getting his newspaper. When he sees Leo with the woman, he slaps his newspaper against his leg hard. Leo tells Toni to start the bargain at nine hundred dollars. Ernest Williams turn his hose towards them and Leo fights the urge to confess. In the story I think that Ernest Williams acts as Leo’s continence because Ernest makes Leo feel bad about his mistakes which he knew were wrong in the beginning.



They buy what they want. If they can’t pay, they charge. They sign up.

In Raymond Carver’s short story “Are These Actual Miles,” the reader is introduced to a family who has found themselves in a financial crisis. They cannot pay back any of their loans and banks have started coming into their home and repossessing anything of value. Leo and Toni’s lawyer advises them to sell their last item of value before it’s too late, their convertible. Toni is a very convincing sales woman so she goes out in attempt to sell the car. Both Toni and Leo do not understand the consequences of spending what you do not have. They both grew up not having much and felt they never wanted to live like that again. They wanted a better life for their kids. Although they wanted all of this they did not have the money or jobs to support that kind of lifestyle. They lived lavishly anyway and found themselves in their current situation, bankrupt with anything worth value being repossessed to try and pay back what they owe.

They’ll be asked some questions, and they’ll sign some papers, and that’s it. But sell the convertible, he said — today, tonight. They can hold onto the little car, Leo’s car, no problem. But they go into court with that big convertible, the court will take it, and that’s that.

In the short story “Are These Actual Miles?” by Raymond Carver, a theme that presents itself is the matter of appearance. In the beginning of the story, the two protagonists, Leo and Toni, are bankrupt and will go to court on Monday. Their lawyer insists that they sell their red convertible in order to keep the appearance that they are, in fact, bankrupt since the courts will repossess the car if they do not. In order to sell the car, Toni puts on expensive clothes and spends hours on her hair and makeup to appear presentable to potential buyers. While Leo is nervous that Toni is going out to sell the car by herself, Toni states that it must be her — that in order for the car to be offered a decent price it must be her since she can create the appearance of a seller who is simply looking for a change of vehicle rather than one looking to make quick cash. Toni also mentions that it is more than likely that she will have to go to dinner with the buyer in order to seal the deal. After Toni leaves, Leo contemplates their situation, mentioning how their kids were staying at his mother’s house, seemingly to keep up the appearance that they are not bankrupt, since before Toni was able to shower her kids with many materialistic goods. She told Leo, “I had to do without when I was a kid… these kids are not going to do without.” (148) He thinks about how, while they still have the basic necessities, they used to be able to frivolously spend their money on anything they wanted, and now they are reduced to only being able to keep up appearances since they no longer possess any money to spend.

They sign up for it all. Even a pedigreed terrier named Ginger. He paid two hundred and found her run over in the street a week later. They buy what they want. If they can’t pay, they charge. They sign up.

In this short story by Raymond Carver, materialism and honesty are two key themes that occur throughout the story. Leo and Toni are not financially stable and must sell their red convertible before it gets repossessed. Although bothimages Leo and Toni know that they are in big financial trouble, neither one seems to be honest with themselves and the severity of the situation. Leo ends up sending their two children to his mothers in order for them to be well taken care of. By doing this Leo once again, shows trouble with being honest even with his own children. He tries to protect them by not letting them know that they are going bankrupt and letting them make false assumptions of why they are actually “visiting” his mothers. A contributing factor to falsifying their financial stability to their children, is due to the fact that Toni did not grow up in a household where her parents had a lot of money. Now, as an adult, Toni doesn’t want the same for her own children and says “These kids are not going to do without.” She goes above and beyond to make sure that her children never question if they have enough things, or if they have the same opportunities as other children. Toni looks at tangible things as a sign of being successful; since she was not fortunate enough to grow up with all things she wanted or thought necessary, she believes that this somehow played a role in her future success. She doesn’t want the same fate for her children, so she overcompensates and provides them with anything they could imagine, hoping that this will ensure that her children will be better off than she is now. As a couple, they overspend without thinking twice. After years of making poor financial choices, they discover that their errors are starting to catch up to them both.

Towards the beginning of the short story, we discover that Leo has cheated on Toni. The morning after his infidelity, their neighbor, Ernest Williams, catches a glimpse of the woman leaving. After seeing the woman leaving, Ernest shows signs of disgust and disapproval. In some ways Ernest symbolizes Leo’s conscience. Leo felt horrible about his dishonesty with Toni and even had an “urge to cry out a confession” when he saw Ernest. After Toni sells the car, Leo begins to question her loyalty and honesty towards him. When she comes home, he inspects her by taking off her clothes, as if he will find the answer if she had cheated on him or not. At the end of the day, there is little to no trust between Toni and Leo, and it’s as if their relationship in entirety is based solely on materialism.


He runs his fingers over her hip and feels the stretch marks there. They are like roads, and he traces them in her flesh. He runs his fingers back and forth, first one, then another. They run everywhere in her flesh, dozens, perhaps hundreds of them. He remembers waking up the morning after they bought the car, seeing it, there in the drive, in the sun, gleaming.

In Raymond Carver‘s short story “Are These Actual Miles,” the main character ,Leo, and his wife, Toni, are dealing with the fact that they have gone bankrupt. Toni is a saleswoman who met Leo while she was trying to sell him children encyclopedias. Even though he didn’t have any children, he still bought one from her. Later, they got married and had children. As a family, Leo and Toni bought a car that they could not afford due to their irresponsible spending habits. It’s interesting that Toni is wearing a “new white blouse, wide lacy cuffs, the new two-piece suit, new heels” and “a new patent-leather handbag”, while Leo has given up nearly everything, including his children. For example, as Leo sat at home eating canned chili and stale crackers , Toni is out with a buyer. She comes back so late that it is almost daytime. After having been able to sell the car, Toni arrives home drunk and Leo puts her to bed. Laying next to Toni, Leo is reminded of the time when they bought the red convertible and everything was alright.

” ‘Hey, one question. Between friends, are these actual miles?’ The man waits, then clears his throat. ‘Okay, look, it doesn’t matter either way,’ the man says. ‘I have to go. Take it easy.’ He backs into the street, pulls away quickly, and turns the corner without stopping.” (151)redconvertible2_1

In the short story, “Are These Actual Miles?” by Raymond Carver; Toni and Leo are the main characters, who are trying to sell their convertible before the court can repossess it. They have a lot of debt and on page 148 Toni says, ” ‘I had to do without when I was a kid,’ she says. ‘These kids are not going without.'” If they sell it, then they can have some money to pay off their bills and debts. Leo says that the payment has to be cash, this is so the court can’t track it as easily and doesn’t leave a papertrail. They sold the convertible for “six and a quarter (150).” In the beginning of the story, it goes through the plans that this couple has to sell their car. The wife, Toni, is supposed to go out and convince people to buy it. The husband, Leo, is quoted saying, ” ‘You look fine,’ he says. ‘You look great. I’d buy a car from you anytime.’ ‘But you don’t have money,’ she says, peering into the mirror (146).”  The couple makes it obvious to the readers that they are having financial issues by these two short sentences; a discussion between Toni and Leo. In the end, after Toni comes home and is yelling at Leo about being bankrupt, Toni is asleep and Leo sits next to her in bed, touching her stretch marks; remembering how their lives were before their troubles caught up to them.

They gorged on food. He figures thousands on luxury items alone. Toni would go to the grocery and put in everything she saw.

In the short story “Are These Actual Miles?” by Raymond Carver, the two main characters Leo and Toni are trying to sell their convertible so that they don’t go completely bankrupt. They have lost all of their money because they spend it all before they can save it. The narrator talks about how Toni would go to the grocery store and buy everything she saw. As Leo is standing in the kitchen waiting for Toni to get back, he thinks about all of the things they had before they had been taken away. He is worried that Toni did not sell the car so when she calls him, he repeatedly asks her if she sold it. When she tells him she sold it, he tells her to come home. She tries to explain to him how she can’t come home because it is part of the deal and she quickly hangs up. He seems to be uneasy about the fact that she is out at a restaurant so late. He calls the restaurant asking to talk to her but hangs up when he thinks he sees a car pull up, but it is not her. She finally gets home very late at night and she angry at Leo at the fact that they are bankrupt. He helps her to bed and then sees the convertible pull up in the driveway and walks out to see why. The man who bought the car left Toni’s purse on the front steps. and starts to drive away when Leo runs out to him. He tells the man the words “Monday” and he pulls out of the drive way and drives away quickly. After this Leo goes back to bed with Toni and remembers the day they bought that convertible.


Tomorrow somebody they owe might slap a lien on the car.

From the beginning  of Raymond Carver’s “Are These Actual Miles?” the reader gets the sense that Leo and Tony, the main characters, are in a financial bind. This can be inferred by the urgency in which they try and sell the car.

“This deal has to be cash, and it has to be done tonight. Tomorrow somebody they owe might slap a lien on the car.”

This suggests that the main characters owe money to the point that their debtor could take possession of their car. The pressure to sell the car before their court date implies that Leo and Toni understand the way it would look to show up at court in a “big convertible” even though they were unable to pay off their debts. Therefore, Toni and Leo frantically look for ways to sell their flashy car. The materialism in this short story is not only shown by the fact that they own a convertible, but also when Toni is getting ready to sell the car. She dresses in “a new white blouse, wide lacy cuffs, the new two-piece suit, new heels.”  In the story, this holds significance because of the financial situation the couple is in.  Their relationship is proven to be based more off of materialism, than love when they attempt to shelter their kids by sending them to their grandparents house.Towards the end of the short story, Toni stumbles back in the house after a long night out with the buyer. She angrily screams “Bankrupt!” which confirms that their financial problems are as bad as they can get. When she rips Leo’s undershirt in her drunken stupor it shows the reader how she has finally reached her breaking point. 1961-buick-lesabre-big-red-convertible-driving-1

“You look fine,” he says.  “You look great.  I’d buy a car from you anytime.”

“But you don’t have money,” she says, peering into the mirror.

Toni and Leo’s relationship in Raymond Carter’s “Are These Actual Miles?” is filled with conflict.  They’re broke and in debt, selling their car last minute before they have to go to court, presumably to file bankruptcy.  Leo has cheated on Toni in the past, something he recalls and feels guilty about when he sees his neighbor Ernest Williams, who was witness to his infidelity.  Leo also fears that Toni has been unfaithful to him when she dodges his questions while out selling their car and returns home afterwards drunk.  Their children have been sent to live with his mother for a while in an attempt to shield them from the destitution that is the result of their parents’ excessive spending.  In the past, the couple had spared no expense, joining clubs, buying the children expensive clothes, putting no thought to what they bought.  They spent in excess in some crippled attempt at making up for never having such things as children.  Toni would say “I had to do without it as a kid…These kids are not going to do without.”  And so they spent and spent.  Now they’re broke and deeply in debt.  Leo, alone in his house while his wife goes off to sell their car–the symbol of their life of happy excess–contemplates the choices they’ve made.  He realizes that they’ve made so many mistakes, but he doesn’t know what to do to fix them.

“He takes his foot off the brake, puts it on again after he has rolled back two or three feet. ‘Hey one question. Between friends, are these actual miles?’ The man waits then clears his throat. ‘Okay, look, it doesn’t matter either way,’ the man says.” (151)

In Raymond Carver’s “Are These Actual Miles?,” Leo and his wife, Toni are going through hard times economically and with one another. As the reader, we are placed in their mid-life crisis. We also are able to see the flashbacks from Leo’s childhood. Though Leo thought as a child that he led a hard life, he realizes that his childhood was much more pleasant than what he’s present lifestyle. It is seen through these flashbacks that we understand why he wants to keep his children away from their crumbling lifestyle. He wants to keep up appearances for his children, but appears that this will be impossible when the children come home.

It is in the final scene that we realize that the title, “Are these actual miles?” is a reflection of Leo’s life. Though it is the strange man who says this, it appears to connect back to Leo’s current state of mind. It almost as if the man is Leo himself saying, “Is this what life is actually like? It doesn’t matter. I’ll just have to deal with it anyway.” It is in this story that Leo is coming into adulthood and going through the tough times that being of adult age brings. He becomes complacent in the bed with Toni, which is parallel to his complacency for what his life has become and what is to come.

There was a letter three days ago, his name penciled on the outside of the dirty envelope, the only letter all summer not demanding payment in full. We are having fun, the letter said. We like Grandma. We have a new dog called Mr. Six. He is nice. We love him. Good-bye.

Toni and Leo, the main characters in Raymond Carver’s short story “Are These Actual Miles,” are skittish and burdened with fear as they rush to sell their convertible before it can be repossessed by the court.  The sentence above implies that they had been getting a lot of bills in the mail lately showing that they were spending money they didn’t have. Toni justified spending money like she was becuase she did not want her kids to go without things that she went without as a kid. These statements show how much she, and her husband, relied on materialistic things, hoping that with more stuff would equal a better lifestyle. Toni and Leo sending their children to live with their grandparents shows how much they rely on how they appear to others, even their own children. As in, they didn’t want their kids to see them struggling with life. This  is seen again when the wife, Toni, goes out to sell the convertible and spends hours doing her hair, makeup, and choosing her clothes.


“They are like roads, and he traces them in her flesh. He runs his fingers back and forth, first one, then another. They run everywhere in her flesh, dozens, perhaps hundreds of them. He remembers waking up the morning after they bought the car, seeing it, there in the drive, in the sun, gleaming.”

This passage in Raymond Carver’s short story “Are these Actual Miles?” epitomizes a struggle many people face –the pursuit of the American dream– and exemplifies many of the mental and physical ramifications of the pursuit. Throughout the story, we get a glimpse in to the mind of the main protagonist, Leo and began to see pieces of his life unfold and his process in analyzing his reality. The story starts with the need for Leo to sell his and his wife’s convertible. Due to this, we are able to see the tension between Leo and his wife, the immediate need for the car to be gone, and the finality that the selling will bring. Many times while Leo’s wife Toni is out trying to “woo” someone into buying the car, we see the inner workings of Leo’s mind and insecurities. This can be seen in the desperateness of the minimal conversation he has with his wife while she sells the car, his contemplation of suicide, “understanding he is willing to be dead,” and his analyzing of their financial situation in the past and present. They have bought, charged, and willed their way into lives Toni never had and wanted for their children as well as traveling and spending “thousands on luxury items alone.”  They are now bankrupt. “What else do they have?”  He begins to realize after the car is gone and his wife asleep, naked and vulnerable, that they have chased a phantom to exhaustion and are left only with memories, wants, and splintered dreams. What do the minimal possessions they still own actually mean? Is this really life?

“Bankrupt!” She screams. She twists loose, grabs and tears his undershirt at the neck. “You son of a bitch,” she says, clawing.

In the short story, “Are These Actual Miles” by Raymond Carver, two parents, Toni and Leo, struggle with bankruptcy. Leo instructs Toni to go out and sell his convertible tonight so they have money that they can use to start over. Although the car won’t be worth all that much, he knows that if he doesn’t sell the car by his court date, they will simply repossess the car and they won’t receive any money for it. As Toni is out trying to sell the car, Leo drinks scotch by the glass and thinks about his children at their grandparents house. While they enjoy themselves, he thinks about their families future and what they will do after the court date. He thinks about their generous spending with a new washer and dryer along with a portable air conditioner. Their trips to Reno and Tahoe, and how they gorged on food. He remembers how his wife would grab everything that she sees in the grocery store claiming,

“I had to do without when I was a kid,” she says. “These kids are not going to do without,” as if he’d been insisting they should.

He remembers her tearing open package after package of new books that she had bought for her book club, and the new expensive dog they bought, which he had found a week later, run over by a car. Toni tearing up new packages and buying everything she could showed that she was very materialistic and had to have everything she wanted. Ultimately, this would result in her and her husband’s bankruptcy.

They buy what they want. If they can’t pay, they charge. They sign up.

As the night rolls on, he starts to worry about if she is going to sell the car. When she finally calls, she is at a restaurant with a man who is going to buy the car. Worried about his wife, he tells her to come home. She refuses stating that having dinner with the men is part of the deal to buying the car. She hangs up and he waits. At the end of the story, she comes home, drunk or hungover, and screams at him as if the bankruptcy was all his fault, when it was clearly both of their faults. He watches her plop into bed and he undresses her, noticing her stretch marks look like roads. He traces them, reminiscing about when he first bought the car.


In Raymond Carver‘s short story “Are these Actual Miles?,” the narrator follows a couple, Toni and Leo, who struggle through their bankruptcy. Throughout this story we see all that they’ve lost due to their impulsive spending and instinctual habits.

After Toni leaves for the night in an attempt to sell their family car, Leo sits at home and begins to drown himself in scotch. The more Leo drinks, the more he thinks about how he got here. He thinks about his two children who have been staying with their grandmother in an effort to shelter them from their current reality. Toni and Leo are both very conscious of their children as they spend their money. Leo, carefully making sure his wife and children have clothes, and Toni, making sure they have everything she had to go without as a kid. The narrator describes the way Toni would go through the store and get anything she wanted, she would join any book club she pleased, and spent money foolishly. Although it could be she spent money in order to give her children everything, it would seem she really spent their money in order to fill the indulgences she craved as a child.

“Toni would go to the grocery and put in everything she saw. ‘I had to do without when I was a kid.”

Toni feels as though she has to explain herself for the things she wants, suggesting that she gets them for herself, rather than their kids. This shows the reader Toni’s selfish side and suggests that she cares more about the material things than her family’s financial security.
As the narrator continues to describe the way they spent their money, it becomes obvious that although they values material objects more than anything else, they never truly appreciated it.

“They enroll in the record club got something to play on the new stereo. They sign up for it all. Even a pedigreed terrier named Ginger. He paid two hundred and found her run over in the street a week later.”

The way this family values their possessions is outrageous. Not only to they want everything, but they don’t even appreciate the things they splurge on. As if the brand new record player isn’t enough, they join a club that will send them random records, not even records they know they will like. This is just another example of their reckless spending. But then, they get this dog for the family who they don’t even take care off. This story is filled with examples of how the two of them are miserable at taking care of themselves and their money.

She and Ian shared the bottle, watching Quiddagunk go orange and rose, then devoted the whole rest of the night to sex — not eating until two in the morning, when they snacked in bed on apples and peanut butter.

In Stephen O’ Connor‘s “Love,” the narrator uses a biblical allusion to Original Sin in correlation to the apples Alice and Ian eat after binging on sex.  In the Bible, God created Adam and Eve.  He gave them one rule: do not eat fruit from the Garden of Eden.  Satan, represented as a serpent, tricked Eve into going into the Garden of Eden and to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge– depicted as an apple tree.  Eve then tricks Adam to also eat from the tree and in result, they become self-aware.  It is in this self-awareness that God must punish them for breaking His rule.  God’s punishment for women was childbirth and His punishment for men was to do labor for the rest of their lives.  This biblical allusion is interesting in this story.  The archetype of apples is common with the theme of self- awareness.  It is after this scene of late night intimacy that we see both characters become painfully aware of their own flaws.  Alice’s flaw is that she is too insecure in herself and her relationship, which causes her to have horrible anxiety while away from Ian for so long.  Ian’s flaw is that he is a know-it-all that is too busy trying to build his career to worry about his anxiety- ridden girlfriend.  There is also irony in the use of this allusion because Alice loves children and dreams of working a “real job” one day; she views the punishments given by God to Adam and Eve as blessings.

In “Love” by Stephen O’Connor, the main character, Alice, falls shamelessly in love with her old college roommate’s boyfriend, Ian. Although she has never met him before, she quickly finds herself with him after her roommate’s funeral. As the two tell stories of her fearlessness and fervor for life, Alice begins to compare herself to Katinka, her old roommate. Alice remembers her as a whirlwind, but sees herself as a quiet kid. She works as a waitress as she attempts to finish her thesis believing that she isn’t as “adult” as her peers.

Throughout the story Alice struggles to write her thesis. She is constantly getting distracted with Ian and decides she has to go to her family’s lakeside cabin  to get her work done. However, her time there is not as peaceful and relaxing as she had intended. Alice finds it nearly impossible to finish her thesis, distracted by worries and insecurities about her relationship. While she constantly fears Ian will get bored of her, Katinka never had that problem. She had everything. She was courageous, bold, and people were drawn to her because of her attitude. Katinka and Ian’s relationship ended because she had left him for a married thesis adviser. This subtle irony of Alice’s innability to focus on and finish her thesis because of Ian, but Katinka had left Ian for someone who would have known exactly how to help. This highlights the way Alice is constantly comparing herself to others.

The woman who had struggled years over that dissertation was so much more knowledgeable, compassionate, and wise than the waifish waitress in her black miniskirt, or the compulsive smiler who hardly breathed a word at the dinner parties she was taken to by her brilliant boyfriend. That woman, Alice believed, was her real, true self — or, at least, the self she would become, if only she could finish her dissertation.

In the short story “Love” by Stephen O’Connor, the protagonist, Alice, struggles to find her own identity and independence while maintaining her relationship with her boyfriend, Ian. Ian and Alice meet in the beginning of the short story over the unfortunate death of Alice’s housemate, who also happened to be Ian’s ex-girlfriend of many months. After hitting it off, they soon enter a relationship with each other. In this relationship, Alice begins to realize her struggle for independence as she cannot pay, in her mind, a large enough rent to cover the cost of sharing Ian’s apartment. She also is struggling to finish her dissertation of six years and finds that while in her relationship, she may never be focused enough to finish it so she can move on with her life and get out of “grad mode.” Alice decides that the independence and freedom she will gain for both her relationship and ability to move on with her life will be available once she can finish her dissertation, so she moves to her father’s cabin for the summer.

While there, without the distraction of Ian or her job, Alice begins to make forward progress on her dissertation. Alice also begins to discover more of her independence while living alone in the cabin. She reminisces of times when her family would take vacations at the cabin, and she would explore the woods alone for hours at a time. The freedom that she had felt as a child to be able to go anywhere she wanted without a time schedule and connect with nature now comes flooding back to her. However, she begins to miss Ian after he suspiciously cancels his plans to come up for the weekend. At this time, she is still successfully working on her dissertation. When Ian does come to visit, Alice realizes that maintaining both her relationship and her independence at the same time is difficult. The more time Ian spends with her at the cabin, the less time Alice spends on her dissertation afterward. After spending a weekend together, Ian leaves, and Alice begins to worry whether or not he is being faithful. Her relationship with him begins to take a downward turn after this, as she tries to not become a jealous girlfriend and instead trust him, even though he begins to act increasingly suspicious with each returned phone call. After a sequence of frightful events such as a thunderstorm, potential stalker, and almost drowning, Alice realizes that while she attempts to tell herself that she is capable of living on her own in the woods, she would much rather be with Ian.

Ditching her weak efforts at finishing her dissertation and trying to be independent, Alice goes home to Ian after a strange phone call in which Ian forgets the details of his last phone call, implying in Alice’s mind that he is cheating on her with his recent ex-girlfriend, Gwendolyn. When she returns home, she finds that she relishes in the comfort of her boyfriend, realizing that she has a sudden profound love for him that did not realize before. Although she did not finish her dissertation and had given up on her independence of living alone, Alice decides to stay in her apartment with Ian and maintain her relationship with him.

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