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In Raymond Carver’s short story “A Small, Good Thing,” the Baker’s helplessness is caused by his apparent class status and by an unknown financial stability, which results in a sense of isolation and loneliness. The baker resolves his sense of helplessness when he realizes that all classes experience the unknown through his connection with Ann and Howard. Through auditory imagery, the text illustrates the monotonous and depressing routine in the Baker’s daily life as a result of his class status that requires him to constantly work to maintain his financial stability.
When Ann first surveys the bakery, she notes that “a radio was playing country-Western music” (60). The auditory imagery of the radio creates an atmosphere of loneliness and emptiness. The imagery suggests that the Baker is isolated from human contact and is instead reliant on technology to create company. This emphasizes the Baker’s loneliness as a result of his inability to separate himself from the bakery to form connections with those around him. The text reveals this through the repetition of the radio. Howard associates the radio with the Baker, saying “I think there was some radio music. Yes, there was a radio going” (84). The ever present radio reveals the routine life in which the Baker lives as a result of his constant need to make money. Furthermore, the constant association of the radio with the Baker reveals the Baker’s desire for company but inability to achieve it as a result of his isolation from society.
Along with the radio, the text also establishes the presence of noise in the background of Ann and Howard’s phone calls with the Baker. The text says “It was five o’clock in the morning…machinery or equipment of some kind in the background” (75). The auditory imagery of the machines highlights the never ending work of the Baker. By noting that a central character cannot identify the sounds of the bakery, Carver establishes the contrast in social class between the Baker and Anne as Ann appears to have not experienced the same form of labor. Furthermore, the accompaniment of the detail “five o’clock in the morning” establishes the hard work the Baker’s constant work and Ann’s surprise—evident in the way she takes note of the detail. With the Baker’s consistent background machinery and Ann’s surprise at it, the text determines the contrast between the two socioeconomic classes. Due to the lack of connection and misunderstanding between the Ann and the Baker, tension is created as both characters fail to understand each other’s personal struggles., believing that their situation is worse in comparison to the opposing character However, at the end of the short story, the two characters create an understanding and their tension is resolved as they recognize the similarities between their struggles.
Carver’s text illustrates this shift in character through tone. During the Baker’s first phone call, his tone is reserved and to the point, saying “There’s a cake here that wasn’t picked up” (63). Here, the Baker attempts to accomplish his job, reinforcing the notion of the Baker’s focus on the success of his bakery. Yet, due to Howard’s rude behavior of hanging up the phone on the Baker, the tone of the Baker shifts. This is because Howard has disrespected the Baker. Having established that the Baker already feels helpless due to his social class, the Baker experiences an increased sense of helplessness when he is disrespected and becomes angry. The text reveals this when the Baker calls Howard back and immediately hangs up. The detail of the Baker continuing to hang up on Ann and Howard displays his desire to possess the power in their relationship. Because the Baker does not understand the root of Ann and Howard’s behavior, he assumes that he is the only character suffering. Carver reveals this in the scene where the Baker assumes that Ann and Howard are at his bakery to receive their cake. The Baker carries a tone of annoyance as he believes Ann as a privileged woman who has taken advantage of his time and resources, aspects that are crucial in his helpless financial state. The Baker says “I’ll give it to you for half of what I quoted you” and continues to say “No. You want it? You can have it” (87). The short syntax of “no” and “you want it” displays the Baker’s anger at the situation as he is impatient for wasting his time on Ann and Howard.
The syntax in “A Small, Good Thing” also reveals the tension behind the Baker’s words as he tries to show that he does not care. His tone is tense as he does not want to be lowered even further in front of Ann and Howard for desiring money from an old cake. The Baker desires further to disassociate himself from Ann and Howard when he says “Lady, I work sixteen hours a day in this place to earn a living” (87). By addressing Ann as “Lady”, the Baker is showing a sign of respect, differentiating himself as a lower class in front of Ann. Yet, the pause before Lady also emphasizes the Baker’s annoyance at Ann for interrupting his work, wasting his time and resources. Furthermore, by labeling his bakery as “this place”, the text highlights that the Baker is not proud of his occupation, revealing his insecurities and helplessness at being put in his socioeconomic situation. With this, the Baker’s tone emerges, ultimately, as one of annoyance and tension.
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