This study guide will help you analyse the short story “Neighbors” (1971) by Raymond Carver. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.
Here you can read an extract from our study guide:
Arlene initially lets her husband go to the Stones’ apartment on his own. However, she eventually seems to work out that what goes on in that apartment has energised Bill, and she becomes curious to try it out herself.
Right from her first visit, Arlene seems to become a voyeur like her husband. Bill notices the change: “He noticed white lint clinging to the back of her sweater, and the color was high in her cheek.” (p. 92, ll. 11-12). The quote suggests she probably lay in the Stones’ bed like Bill. Her blushing might suggest that, like her husband, she masturbated in the Stones’ bedroom, possibly to the private pictures she has found. So in this, Bill and Arlene are very similar.
Arlene’s voyerism becomes evident when she reveals to Bill that she has found some private pictures (possibly nudes) of their neighbors:
‘I guess I should tell you. I found some pictures.’
He stopped in the middle of the hall. ‘What kind of pictures?’
‘You can see for yourself,’ she said, and she watched him. (p. 92, ll. 19-24)
The fact that she looks him in the eye seems sexually provocative. Arlene has developed compared to the beginning of the short story where she seems more sexually reserved. Pretending to be someone else inside the Stones’ apartment has made her feel more liberated and confident.
It is worth noting that neither Arlene nor Bill shows any remorse for their actions towards their neighbors. Their fear in the ending is only about themselves.