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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)

Who do you hear saying "she didn't offer again"? Is it the character or the narrator? Did you experience any doubts before or after answering?

2 Answers 2

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Your quote is missing the paragraph breaks (edit 22 April 2024 at 02:00GMT: added just now by another user). The following is what the passage looks like in a recent printed edition (Raymond Carver: Cathedral, Random House, 2016). I have lengthened the quote a bit to provide the proper context:

 “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.”

It seems clear from this that the introductory sentences of the two last paragraphs quoted here—“She didn’t offer again.” and “He could hear her waiting for him to say something else.”—are in both cases the narrator speaking.

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  • Thank you for your efforts and for your answer. I'm surprised. I appreciate it. The problem, for me, with saying that the narrator says “She didn’t offer again.” is: why would the narrator report something that did NOT happen? Who was expecting her to offer again, the narrator? the reader? Carlyle?
    – Amin
    Commented Apr 19 at 12:52
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    @Amin I believe the assumption is that Carol may have thought Carlyle declined her offer at least partly out of politeness or concern (given that in order to come over, Carol would have had to call her sitter and then drive to Carlyle’s house). In such a situation, many people would be inclined to repeat their offer to clarify that they were serious about making it, which is probably what the narrator expects the reader to think. For some reason, however, Carol decides against this, which is why the narrator notes “She didn’t offer again.” …
    – Segorian
    Commented Apr 19 at 16:24
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    … The narrator’s next comment—“He could hear her waiting for him to say something else”—can then be interpreted as suggesting that Carol was waiting for Carlyle to change his mind and actually ask her to come over.
    – Segorian
    Commented Apr 19 at 16:25
  • I see now! So for you, did Carlyle notice that she didn't offer again?
    – Amin
    Commented Apr 20 at 16:21
  • This answer is not correct; like the question, it assumes a distinction between character and narrator that does not apply in the narrative technique used here, free indirect discourse.
    – verbose
    Commented Apr 22 at 2:05
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The distinction the question assumes, between character and narrator, does not pertain here. As your previous question about this short story discusses, "Fever" is told in free indirect speech. In this narrative technique, the perspective of the character is the narrator's perspective.

The entire passage is told through Carlyle's perspective. Even Carol's words elaborating on her offer to come over are told not as direct speech, nor from the perspective of a neutral third party reporting her thoughts, but as Carlyle experiences them:

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.

In direct speech, this would be something like:

"Do you want me to come over to your place?," Carol asked. "I will. I think maybe I had better do that. I'll call my sitter, then I'll drive to your place. I want to. You shouldn't be afraid to say when you need affection."

But in this story, the distinction between Carol's saying something and Carlyle's hearing it is absent. The quotation from the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature provided in the answer to your previous question says that free indirect discourse:

allows for the seamless integration of a character’s thought or speech, with all of its distinctive markers, into the narratorial discourse. Because FID occurs in the context of narratorial discourse and allows for a fluid movement back and forth between narratorial and figural subjectivities, it characteristically entails a mixture or interplay of two voices—the narrator’s and the character’s—in the same utterance.

So when the narrative has She didn’t offer again, or He could hear her waiting for him to say something else, asking whether it is the narrator or the character whose voice we are hearing begs the question. There is no distinction between the two voices, and what we are hearing is a single voice representing both.

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  • It's interesting that you brought up the FID passage there. Actually, I have a separate question about that one. Notice that Carol's speech before and after the FID is reported in normal quoted speech. Why do you think FID is used for that part of what she said specifically? what does it express?
    – Amin
    Commented Apr 22 at 7:06
  • That's a hard question to answer with regard to just this passage. To be sound, it would involve seeing how direct speech and FID work in the entire story. Please feel free to ask a larger question about it!
    – verbose
    Commented Apr 22 at 7:12
  • Exactly! it also depends on the type of narrator the story uses. The problem with the dual voice theory is that it doesn't answer these questions. Who notices that she didn't offer again? It makes a big difference in the way we understand the story. And here, "a neurotic ten-year-old the father had named Dodge, after his automobile" who is being humorous? Who is mocking these people? the narrator, or character, or both?
    – Amin
    Commented Apr 22 at 7:28
  • What "dual voice theory"? There's a single narrative voice, and it is the character's. The whole point is that in FID, there isn't a difference between the two. Trying to find one will indeed result in difficulty understanding the story.
    – verbose
    Commented Apr 22 at 7:32
  • Yes, I understand, but the casual reader who doesn't know what FID is should be able to understand the story and answer these questions, no? Imagine you didn't google FID. How would you answer them? This is why I posted the questions by the way.
    – Amin
    Commented Apr 22 at 7:38

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