This study guide will help you analyse the short story “Neighbors” by Raymond Carver. You can also find a summary of the text.

Presentation of the text

Title: “Neighbors” (1971)
Author: Raymond Carver
Genre: Short story

Raymond Carver was an American short-story writer and poet, born in 1938 in Oregon. “Neighbors” is a short story that was first published in Esquire magazine in 1971, and then later in 1976 in Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet, Please collection.


Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide: 


The simplicity of the title leaves a lot of room for interpretation, letting the reader explore its shifting meaning throughout the story. The title creates the reader expectation that the focus of the short story is on the relationship between neighbours, who are revealed to be the Millers and the Stones. However, as we observe the actions of the main characters, Bill and Arlene Miller, we realise that the neighbourly relationship is not that simple. Bill and Arlene judge the quality of their lives by comparing it to that of others and consider it to be worse than that of their neighbours. We get some indication of this when Arlene says “ ‘God knows, we could use a vacation’ ”.


The mirror in the Stones’ apartment is an important system, which appears several times, as Bill is repeatedly shown looking at himself in the Stones' mirror: “He looked at himself in the mirror and then closed his eyes and then looked again”. At first it seems as though he is unhappy with what he sees, closing his eyes as if that would change what is reflected back. However, he does apparently change in his own view over the time he spends in the Stones’ apartment: “In the bedroom again, he sat on a chair, crossed his legs, and smiled, observing himself in the mirror”. Towards the end of the short story, we see him smiling at his reflection while wearing Jim Stone’s clothes, finally satisfied with how he looks and who he is. This suggests that the neighbours across the hall have been reduced to mirror images of Bill and Arlene, objects that could reflect a better version of the Millers’ lives.

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