In the short stories, “Elephant” written by Raymond Carver, and “the Prison” written by Bernard Malamud, the characters are filled with unhappiness. Malamud is one of the most prominent figures in Jewish American literature. Carver was an American short story writer and poet. He contributed to the revitalization of the American short story in literature during the 1980s. The central idea in both short stories are family problem and poor choices.
In the “The Prison,” the character’s unhappiness originated from his poor childhood decisions which comes from his poor childhood experience. He stole a car and is now regretting it. He is forced to marry Rosa and to work in the candy store. This makes him not enjoy his life. Also, he has no freedom to do what he likes to do. For example, he put the slot machines in the store to “supply them a few extra dollars cash.” Consequently, Rosa screamed and her father “chopped the machine apart”. Moreover, having no freedom to do something made his life miserable and boring. An example of this is when “he would wake up with the sour remembrance of the long night in the store ahead of him while everybody else was doing as he damn pleased.” As a result, “he cursed the place and Rosa, and cursed, from its beginning…” This shows his hatred for the place he works. Hence, character is unhappy from his childhood decisions.
Similarly, in the “Elephant” the unhappiness of the main character came from his past experience but not in his childhood experience. This may have happened before he divorced with his wife. One can see when he said in his dream that “drinking that whiskey was the thing that scared me. That was the worst thing that could have happened.” This shows that his drinking problem was one of the reasons why he divorced with his wife because he might had done negative things without thinking. Furthermore, he also “smashed through the glass” with his shoe at his son. This may have resulted from his bad drinking habit. As a result, he is now living alone and always have to send money to his former wife because of the law. Thus, in the “Elephant,” the character’s unhappiness also came from his past experience like the main character in “The Prison.”
In contrast, in the “Elephant,” the character is unhappy because of his family. They are heavily dependent on him to help them financially. Helping his family may make him happy, but he has to work really hard and has to save a lot of money. One can see when he “had to quit eating out.” He also could not get new shoes. This shows that he have to reluctantly save money to support his family. He is so unhappy and angry that he threatened to change his name and quit his job and move to Australia. Even though he helps them, they will later ask for more help. For instance, his son asked for money to go to “the college in New Hampshire”. Later, he decides to go back to Europe and asks for his dad to support him by threatening to do evil things. This proves that they are taking advantage of him because his son wasted money by deciding go to Europe. Later, he might decide to study in America again. Therefore, the main character’s unhappiness is coming from his families’ desire to take advantage of his kindness.
To conclude, the characters in the two short stories are unhappy. Both of the main character’s unhappiness came from their past experience. This caused them to live alone or live with his wife he does not love. Thus, this teaches the readers to act with a positive manner, or else, bad things they have done will come back to haunt them. However, after the dreams in “Elephant”, the main character feels better and let go of his resentment which make him view things in a positive way. Sadly, in “The Prison”, the main character is still unhappy because he failed to stop the girl from stealing things. Therefore, the character’s unhappiness came from their past experiences and their families.