Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most well known contemporary writers of the twentieth century who is consistent in producing numerous novels and other works of art. As a prolific writer, many of her works have been critiqued and analyzed as literary pieces which have social impacts on the society. To better acquaint readers of her works, it is important that they are given a background to the author’s life and early criticisms. Oates began writing at the early age of fourteen when her grandmother Blanche gave her a typewriter as a gift.
Upon receiving it, she began writing stories incessantly from her high school to college years. She enrolled in Syracuse University and soon her writing was recognized by winning the fiction contest sponsored by Mademoiselle. She graduated as valedictorian and later finished her master’s degree in English at the University of Wisconsin. It was in the university when she met Raymond J. Smith whom she married in 1962. The couple moved to New Jersey where Oates continued her teaching in Princeton University.
They established a printing press where they also published The Ontario Review. Oates started writing more stories primarily with gothic themes and psychological realism. It is also quite notable that Oates used two other pseudonyms Lauren Kelly and Rosamond Smith. Many critics have regarded her as a feminist and a workaholic for despite her success; she is still able to manage her time between writing and teaching. Her respond to this is that, “I am not conscious of working especially hard, or of ‘working’ at all.
Writing and teaching have always been, for me, so richly rewarding that I don’t think of them as work in the usual sense of the word” (Johnson). Overview of major works Some of the books that Oates is famous for are them, Black Water, and Blonde. Her novel them was published in 1969 which won the National book Award. It deals with the hardships of the American working class has to go through to be able to survive life. The story runs in the course of the Wendall’s family.
By means of love and money, Oates depicts the troubles and predicaments of the Wendall family trying to overcome poverty and misery in their lives (Cologne-Brookes 42-43). The American society is a prevailing theme in the stories of Oates as she wishes to inculcate her views and opinions about social issues through her works. Several of her works such as Black Water, What I Lived For, and Blonde have been nominees for Pulitzer Prize. Her other works includes short stories such as Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? is famous for its depiction of rape and the silence of women in the 20th century.
Her novel, We were the Mulvaneys has been included in the Oprah Winfrey’s book club and its endorsement in Oprah’s show has made the book her most successful work commercially. General criticism According to Linda Wagner, well know for her critical essays towards Oates works, the author still remains, “strangely marginalized. The value of her fiction keeps getting displaced, subsumed under arguments about who she is, what her concerns as a writer really are, what role her fiction plays in the paradigm of current literature” (Cologne-Brookes 1).
This is due to the fact that Oates has written so many literary pieces that her genre is ambiguously identified. Another aspect which is important to take note is the fact that Oates is a woman who clearly inculcates feminist views in her works. As a prolific writer, it is discovered that, “Between 1971-95, Oates published twenty-five novels, eighteen short story compilations, three collections of novellas, five volumes of poetry, six editions of plays, eight books of essays, and countless more uncollected works (Kellman 487).
Her subjects vary so much focusing on different themes such as gothic, suicide, politics, psychology and other social issues which are currently present in the society. Despite the numerous literary works, she asserts that she is fond of tackling the issues of American society by “colliding social and economic forces, its philosophical contradictions, its wayward, often violent energies” (Johnson 8). Her method of combining social forces which are current in the American society makes it easier for readers and critics to dissect the personal touch of the author on her works.
Criticism of Several Oates’ Works However, many critics have attacked Oates’ works in a negative light. They claim that Oates’ novels and short stories often deals with violence and women degradation such as her famous short story Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?. In this story, Oates made use of the actual Charles Schmid murders to inspire the story of Connie, a fifteen-year old girl, who fools around with boys in a time of her sexual awakening. One day, a man named Arnold Friend arrives at her house when the rest of her family is on a barbeque party.
Friend tells her that he is her lover and that they are “all going to get it” if she does not come with him for a ride (Oates 133). Oates clearly depicts the role of women in this story as a sexual fulfillment to men and that sexual awakening for young girls could be quite a nuisance physically and emotionally. According to a critic, “The entire story is about Connie using drugs, and on the Sunday afternoon in the story, she is not the victim of a serial rapist/murder, but merely the victim of a drug trip” (Kapper).
The role of music in the story is notable as rock music and the presence of the devil in Arnold Friend’s character. The critic wishes to show how the intention of Oates “to denigrate rock’n’roll music, and that this denigration is closely tied to the demonic nature of Arnold Friend’s character”. Another notable story is Oates’ Black Water which tells the narration of Kelly Kelleher minutes before her death in a dark swamp. It was published in 1992 tells the story of a twenty-six year old girl who leaves a party with a senator.
The drunken senator lost track of his driving which caused the car to plunge in a dark swamp. In this story, the senator who invited Kelly to his hotel and who is sexually attracted to her becomes the villain who abandoned Kelly as she drowned in the dark marsh where the car has plunged out of the senator’s drunkenness. This story reveals a political issue as the author described how the female protagonist hoped and trusted the senator to go back for her and save her. Unfortunately, the senator never returned which ultimately led to her death (Oates).
The issue of politics is clear in the message of the story. Joyce Carol Oates allows us to know the victim in this story. In so doing, she provides a brilliant vision of how a culture has learned to associate political power with sex and to accept as one of the trappings of power the single thing most chronically wrong in the relations between men and women: that old, awful tendency to see the other as a sexual abstraction, a goal (Bausch). Blonde, on the other hand, somewhat depicts a “fictional” account of Marilyn Monroe’s life and affairs.
It was published on 2000 and had earned harsh reviews from critics because of her way of fictionalizing a biography of Marilyn Monroe’s controversial public life. It includes nicknames for prominent and famous figures who have become a part of Monroe’s life such as the “ex-athlete” Joe DiMaggio and “the playwright” Arthur Miller (Hartman 55-56). Impact of Joyce Carol Oates Due to the prolific works of Oates, her impact on society, literature, and other modes of art such as films have become remarkable. Her short story, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
has been adapted into film Smooth Talk which is entirely based on her story. According to scholars, “the 1985 film based on the story, broke the silence imposed upon rape victims” (Daly 149). The silence of several raped women has developed into an issue that could not be ignored anymore. Oates, through her novels, is able to influence action regarding different social and moral issues which are rampant today. Conclusion Joyce Carol Oates is evidently one of the most prolific writers of the contemporary era.
Her ability to produce great quantity of works in a short span of time is very remarkable. No doubt she has become such a notable icon among other contemporary writers of today. Her works portrays the American society in its most violent tendencies that it has made readers contemplating about the current moral and social issues of the American setting. Her works such as Black Water, Where Have You Been, Where Are You Going? and Blonde have made tremendous impact on the history of literature that sooner or later she might just win the most coveted Pulitzer Prize for one of her future works.
Bausch, Richard. “Her Thoughts While Drowning. ” 10 May 1992. The Times. 27 April 2009. <http://www. times. com/books/98/07/05/specials/oates-water. html> Cologne-Brookes, Gavin. Dark eyes on America: The Novels of Joyce Carol Oates. United States of America: Louisiana State University Press, 2005. Daly, Brenda O. Lavish Self-Divisions: The Novels of Joyce Carol Oates. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1996. Hartman, Geoffrey H. Scars of the Spirit: The Struggle against Inauthenticity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.