Dark Humor and Masculinity Reconstruction in Carver’s Stories

Jingqiong ZHOU


Although Carver has enjoyed increasing popularity both at home and abroad, humor and masculinity construction in his short stories seem both disproportionately ignored. This paper first focuses on the humor in four of Carver’s short stories and then discusses the relationship between humor and masculinity construction. Two theories are employed to back up my argument: The incongruity theory of humor and Judith Butler’s re-conception of gender as performatively constructed and masculinity as tenuous and fragile. It is true that Carver’s short fiction is full of emotional turmoil and hopelessness, but such peculiar bleakness is often mitigated with subtle humor, subdivided into verbal play, situational humor, and humorous characterization. These narrative strategies find expression in “A Serious Talk,” “One More Thing,” “Preservation,” and “Careful.” Such an observation means the general criticism that things start looking up in Cathedral, Carver’s collection of his later period, needs qualifying: the first two stories come from What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, Carver’s mid-phase collection, although the last two are from Cathedral. The association between humor and masculinity construction in Carver’s short fiction should no doubt open up a new critical space in Carver studies.


Carver’s Short Stories; Humor; Masculinity Construction

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968/11461


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