Unattainable Dream in Carver's Neighbors


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An Unattainable Daydream

In a world full of cheaters, liars, and con artists, the last person anyone should lie to is themselves. However, that is exactly what took place in Raymond Carver's, "Neighbors." In this story, Bill and Arlene Miller were left with the opportunity to take care of Jim and Harriet Stone's apartment while they were away visiting family for ten days. The Millers had grown weary of their lives and often felt jealous of their neighbors, who they felt lived a happier and more exciting life than they. In their neighbors' absence, the Millers acted very strangely; trying on their clothes, drinking their alcohol, and spending excessive amounts of time in their apartment. They tried living the life of the Stones until one day they were locked out of their own apartment with no way of returning to their own dreary lives. This story shows that a person should never try to be something they are not. If a change is needed, it should always be from within or else you eventually find yourself lost, with nowhere to turn except for the long, dark, and deceitful world of lies.
In the story, "Neighbors," the Millers eventually became so disgusted with their own lives, lying was no longer enough. They began living the life of the Stones and used mirrors multiple times as symbols to show how much they desired to see Jim and Harriet in the reflections. For example, on page 70 it says, "He looked at himself in the mirror and then closed his eyes and then looked again," (Roberts and Jacobs 70). When, after opening his eyes and seeing no change, Bill decided to open the medicine cabinet, take Harriet Stone's pills, and place them in his pocket. He is so desperate to become one of the Stones that he decides that maybe drugs will help. The next time Bill visited his neighbor's apartment, he laid down on their bed and couldn't even remember when they would return or even what they looked like. After a sigh, he rolled off of the bed to look at himself in the mirror (Roberts and Jacobs 72). Still with no change, he decided to begin trying on Jim's clothes in hope of a miracle. He tried on a pair of Jim's shorts and t-shirt and again looked in the mirror (Roberts and Jacobs 72).

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After seeing the same reflection, he made up his mind to go into the living room and pour himself a drink. All of this shows how much Bill desires to become something he is not. He even starts drinking alcohol in order to skew his imagination. Next, Bill tried on Harriet's clothes but did not have the heart to look in the mirror. Instead, he looked out the living room window from behind the curtains (Roberts and Jacobs 72). This must have been in order for neighbors to not see him acting strangely and so that he didn't have to face his own reality. He had reached a new low and began cross-dressing.
Arlene was also guilty of impersonating her neighbors and possibly even dressing the part as well. First, she would use the handmade tablecloth that Harriet had brought for her from Santa Fe the previous year (Roberts and Jacobs 72). She could use any tablecloth available. However, she decided that she must use the Stone's tablecloth. Also, after spending a considerable amount of time in her neighbor's apartment, she came back and Bill, "…noticed the white lint clinging to the back of her sweater, and the color was high in her cheeks," (Roberts and Jacobs 73). This hints at the fact that Arlene had also been laying in the Stone's bed and probably trying on Harriet's makeup as well. Bill and Arlene became so obsessed with visiting next door for hours and going about their business as if it was their home that they often forgot to do the chores they were supposed to do in the first place. Arlene could not understand what had gotten into Bill the last few days either. He would constantly want to take her to bed and even had his wife call his work and tell them he would not be in; anything was preferred instead of living his own miserable life.
Bill realized that his life was passing him by and his unhappiness would only grow with time. This was shown through the symbol of the clock over the television that Bill had noticed twice. He explained that Harriet had brought it home one day and cradled it in her arms like a baby, even speaking to it through the tissue paper (Roberts and Jacobs 70) This shows that time is precious and there is no way of stopping it. While the Stones embrace the changes through time, the Millers would prefer to reverse it. This is especially evident when Arlene left the key inside to the Stone's apartment and locked the door (Roberts and Jacobs 73). Bill and Arlene were terrified because they would have to go back to their own lifeless lives. There was to be no more pretend world for them; almost like a child learning that there is no such thing as Christmas and Santa Claus. It just seemed impossible.
Their world had fallen apart and it can only be imagined as to what they did next. Bill and Arlene did all they could do in order to live the life of someone else. All the while, they pretended that everything was alright. They even hoped that their neighbors would not return and they would continue their imaginary world forever. However, the future cannot be predicted and only time can tell what it will bring. Changes in one's life cannot be brought about through daydreaming. It takes action and the power to realize that something new is needed. As Henri Bergson once stated, "To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly."


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