Time and physical setting

The short story “A Small, Good Thing” by Raymond Carver was published in 1983. The use of the term “Negro” in a seemingly non-derogatory way in reference to the African-American family that Ann meets in the hospital suggests that the action probably happens before the 1960s, as in previous decades this was a socially accepted term. However, since Scotty’s cake is decorated with “a spaceship and launching pad”, this might place the action in the 1960s or later, since the 60’s saw an increased interest in space. In this case, the use of the term “Negro” could indicate ignorance or racism on the part of Ann, whose perspective the narrator seems to be sharing. One of the members of the African-American family – a young girl – is also smoking inside the hospital, in the waiting room. In the US, smoking in hospitals was accepted as late as the 1980s. A reference to Ann’s clothes suggests that the action takes place during the cold season: “She put on clean underwear, wool slacks, and a sweater.” 

The story takes place over the course of several days in different locations. The story begins on a Saturday afternoon, at the bakery where Ann orders the cake for Scotty’s eighth birthday, which is on Monday. Ann also notices the back of the bakery, where the baker prepares his goods, and that “A radio was playing country-western music.” This detail is what helps Ann realize that the mysterious caller is the baker.

The action continues on Monday morning, when Scotty is hit by a car while walking to school. Then, at home, Scotty loses consciousness and is taken to the hospital, where he spends the next days in a hospital room on the third floor. The setting of the hospital is important, particularly when Ann cannot find the elevator to leave the hospital and get home. This is symbolic for her feeling “trapped” in a state of waiting and worrying for Scotty, but also of her reluctance to leave. 

Scotty dies on Wednesday morning. The story ends on Thursday morning, after Howard and Ann spend all night eating in the bakery and listening...

The text shown above is just an extract. Only members can read the full content.

Get access to the full Study Guide.

As a member of, you get access to all of the content.

Sign up now

Already a member? Log in