The Village Store, with its dim fluorescent lights, creaky floors, and expired milk, seems to stay open solely from selling coffee, Mountain Dew, and condoms. As I walk to the cashier, an old man follows me, and with a raspy voice and a dirty-toothed smirk asks, “How are you doing?” My heartbeat makes my whole body tremble and my imagination rushes to the worst: he watches gross videos online, drinks alone every night, and loiters in the back of the store waiting to pounce on his teenage prey.
His greeting reeks of predatory intentions. I think of him as a rabid dog. I can’t imagine him having a granddaughter my age and is worried about me driving in the snow. It’s good that I assume he’s a creep; it protects me. Perhaps this assumption is limiting. Like the female in Robert Frost’s “The Subverted Flower,” I fail to see that he is something “other than base and fetid.” In the context of this poem, I was the flower, and the old man the beast with foam dripping from his chin. For two-thirds of the poem, Frost depicts the male as imposing. He shamelessly prowls on the female, committing some form of sexual violation. But in the last third, Frost recognizes the female’s indifference; she failed to see beyond his rotten and assertive actions, and her evasiveness exaggerates his predation.
In “So Much Water So Close to Home,” Raymond Carver uses subtle tactics to make the reader empathize with the protagonist. The entire story is told from Claire’s perspective of overcast unsettlement. She too fears sexual violation. When Claire pulls over after slowing and speeding up at the wrong times, the man who’s been driving behind her pulls over and raps on the glass. Luckily, Claire has locked the doors and rolled up the windows. The man asks her repeatedly if she’s okay, even after Claire responds with shaking her head and telling him to go away. He calls “Sugar” and tells her to open the door. The passage ends with Claire’s narration of: “He looks at my breasts, my legs. I can tell that’s what he’s doing” to further imply that this man is dangerous.
The assumptions made by the reader are in light of Claire’s instinctual fear. Automatically, I felt disturbed and scared. My heart started beating rapidly as if I was in the situation myself, and I wasn’t sure if I could continue reading. I never considered the man to be someone who probably, out of concern, pulled over and was genuinely worried about Claire’s wellbeing. Carver then dropped this scene and skipped to the next, leaving things up to question. By doing so, he furthers the reader’s sense of worry for Claire, bringing us farther from empathizing with the other, male character. Though her fear is warranted, it is at the expense of seeing this man with good intentions.
It is no coincidence that fear prevails in all of these situations. Women have been told to be fearful when men approach them without asking. It is important, though, to recognize these assumptions’ apathy. Fear is crucial, for it allows one to anticipate true danger. However, when fear is constant, it leaves no room for good intentions, and reduces others to only their worst characteristics. Society implants this fear in women, preventing neither the woman nor the person she fears to interact wholly.