Context: Carol is a divorced woman from work that Carlyle (the protagonist) started seeing a few months after his wife had left him and the kids. Carlyle has not been successful in finding a good babysitter for the children. He is talking to Carol on the phone, telling her about what the new teenage babysitter did and how irresponsible she turned out to be.

“My God,” Carol said. “Poor sweetie, I'm so sorry.” Her voice sounded indistinct. He pictured her letting the receiver slide down to her chin, as she was in the habit of doing while talking on the phone. He’d seen her do it before. It was a habit of hers he found vaguely irritating. Did he want her to come over to his place? she asked. She would. She thought maybe she’d better do that. She’d call her sitter. Then she’d drive to his place. She wanted to. He shouldn’t be afraid to say when he needed affection, she said. Carol was one of the secretaries in the principal’s office at the high school where Carlyle taught art classes. She was divorced and had one child, a neurotic ten-year-old the father had named Dodge, after his automobile.

 “No, that’s all right,” Carlyle said. “But thanks. Thanks, Carol. The kids are in bed, but I think I'd feel a little funny, you know, having company tonight.”

 She didn’t offer again. “Sweetie, I’m sorry about what happened. But I understand your wanting to be alone tonight. I respect that. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”

 He could hear her waiting for him to say something else. “That’s two baby-sitters in less than a week,” he said. “I’m going out of my tree with this.

(Raymond Carver, "Fever"; emphasis mine)

Notice that Carol's speech before and after that passage (in bold) is reported in normal quoted speech. Why do you think indirect report is used for that part of what she said specifically? what does it express?

  • 1
    It is merely an interspersing of dialogue and innner voice of a character. This is very common in novels. Not everything is in the dialogue.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 22 at 17:44
  • It's interesting that you think this is the character's inner voice. Do you mean that the character is repeating Carol's speech in his mind? If so, what is his attitude towards what she said? in what tone is he repeating it?
    – Amin
    Commented Apr 23 at 5:36

1 Answer 1


(I was wondering whether to write this as a comment or as an answer. I think any answer to such a question can only be an opinion, so I'll lead with mine.)

First, if you transpose Carol's lines into direct speech, it sounds unnatural in a different, less interesting way. Does she really say all of this in one go? That would be a bit much, changing topics too rapidly. The reported speech leaves open, I'd say, the possibility of Carlyle's occasional "thank you, no" in between. For example, the "She wanted to" sounds like a reply to his omitted "I can't really ask that/That's too much".

Second, I agree with Lambie's comment about inner voice. Using (more) direct speech for Carol's part of the conversation would put more focus on her, giving her an equal share in the conversation. Reported speech, I'd say, usually means some distancing or remove from the person speaking, usually on behalf of the narrator, in this case, though, to keep Carlyle as the focus of the conversation - even though he says much less than Carol - and to show his distance from her. We are kept, as it were, on his side of the telephone conversation, hearing Carol's voice almost muffled.

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