Just to let everyone know because I am very proud of this research paper is that I got a 91
on it! yay me!
28 January 2008
Analyzing, "Four Summers," and, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
Joyce Carol Oates is famous for creating many short stories that vary in genre, but are still being enjoyed and read by people today. Many of her short stories contain symbolism, various kinds of conflicts like person versus person, person versus self and person versus fate: and they also are allegorical. Joyce Carol Oates's short stories, "Four Summers," and, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" both have common themes which are forced love and facing reality because both of the main characters, Sissie and Connie, face tough decisions that could impact their lives and their experiences with love.
Symbolism plays an important role in, "Four Summers" and each piece of symbolism helps pull the themes, forced love and facing reality, together. In the middle of the story, Sissie watches as her, "Dad pours beer into his glass and spills some of it. I wish I could looks away. I love him, but I hate to be here" (Oates, "Four Summers" 284). During the 1960s, when this short story was written, drinking beer became very popular and most children grew up in homes that either had one parent or both parents drinking and slowly wasting away. Sissie believes that as soon as one person, or herself, drinks beer or any kind of alcoholic beverage for that matter, then that person will turn out like
their parents and slowly waste away as well. Beer symbolizes life slowly going downhill and wasting away life. Sissie also watches her father and his friends play cards and thinks, "Their lives are like hands dealt out to them in their innumerable card games. You pick up the sticky cards, and there it is: there it is. Can't change anything, all you can do is switch some cards around, stick one in here, one over here… pretend there is some sense, a secret scheme" (Oates, "Four Summers" 284). The cards symbolize destiny or fate which applies to facing reality. Some people believe that they can avoid troubles and hardships, the "sticky cards," but eventually, the trouble resurfaces and they will have to deal with problems because each person "can't change anything." A lot of people believe that they can run away from their current life or they want to change a certain aspect about their life, but sometimes, it can be difficult or impossible because of family, friends, jobs, income and their past. There is a lot of symbolism in, "Four Summers," that has to deal with reality, but there is much more symbolism in, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
The short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" contains a considerable amount of symbolism, such as characters. Joan Easterly has described one of the characters, Arnold Friend as, "…Half man and half animal, the wild creature symbolizes the freedom of imagination as opposed to the discipline of culture and intellect." (Oates's Satyr 6). Many of these short story critics for the short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" believe that Arnold Friend is a satyr. Even though Arnold Friend may or may not be a satyr, he was trying to take Connie away from her childhood home which is what makes Connie face reality about her leaving her
family forever or fighting against him and staying, but in the end, Connie ends up leaving with Arnold Friend in his jalopy because he threatened to hurt her family and she did not want that. Joan Easterly also states that, "When Friend is interpreted as representing a satyr, a demi-god from Greece and Roman mythology. In the edge of impossibility, Oates states, 'the abstract parody of human like as acted out by gods, has a profound and magical value, inexplicable.'" (Oates's Satyr 1). Joyce Carol Oates believes that the imagination of one's mind has great value and people can interpret ideas differently. Connie ends up making a decision in her life that seems unrealistic and that is Arnold Friend is indeed not normal, not human. These two stories are both filled with symbolism that affected their main characters' lives, but so does the literary work, allegory.
The use of allegory in, "Four Summers," has helped bring out the story's main themes. Keith Cushman has also said that, "The final section provides resolution only in the sense that after all her yearning to escape her parents' world; she is now irrevocably trapped by her marriage and her pregnancy." (Joyce's Four Summers 138). Joyce Carol Oates writes many stories that are based on real life settings and happenings which make what happened in the story even more realistic instead of phony. Also, Sissie believes that she is trapped in a place for as long as she lives because she became pregnant and betrothed to a man at such a young age, nineteen; she feels like she is being forced into loving her life and everyone in it. Keith Cushman also states that, "The characters in the working-class milieu of, 'Four Summers,' are trapped by their own limitations and by the conditions of American life. They are poorly educated and unable to communicate meaningfully. They yearn to escape from their empty, dreary lives, but no escape is
possible. Indeed the abortive effort to escape is a unifying motif in the story." (Joyce's Four Summers 137). Sissie, a young adult, grew up with parents that weren't great role models and in an environment that wasn't healthy. As a young child, she grew up seeing everyone around her fall apart, fall out of love and abuse alcohol which makes her afraid that she will do the same by going down that same road her parents did by becoming pregnant and getting married. Even though, "Four Summers," had used allegory in ways that affected Sissie's life; allegory is also present in, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
The literary work, allegory, is very common in, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" and the use of allegory has helped bring out the themes of this story. In the short story, Connie asks herself, "Where would I rather be? With Marian and Betty at the movies, or in my room, lying on the bed and staring at the photographs of movie stars on my walls- those beautiful people that never say anything" (Oates, "Where Have You Been" 249). Every teenager has pictures of their favorite celebrity hanging on the bedroom walls at home and these pictures easily influence these teenagers how to live and how to look. Connie, a normal teenage girl, is easily influenced and believes that she isn't pretty and will do anything to herself to make herself pretty so that others will love her; and by adding these celebrity posters to a teenagers room makes this story very realistic. Even Arnold Friend came to Connie's house, dressed up as a normal teenage boy would have during the 1960s. Towards the end of the story, Arnold Friend suggests, "'We'll go out to a nice field, out in the country here where it smells so nice and it's
sunny,' Arnold Friend said. 'I'll have my arms tight around you so you won't need to try to get away and I'll show you what love is like, what it does…'" (Oates, "Where Have
You Been" 249). Arnold Friend is trying to persuade Connie into leaving with him and going to a place that is beautiful and sunny, the country. In many old fashioned movies, the criminals or the bad guys would always run away to the country and since Arnold Friend is indeed an evil man, it makes the story realistic. Joyce Carol Oates has used allegory in ways that helped the themes stand out more and make the lives of characters similar to real life which makes it even more realistic.
Sissie faces many conflicts during the story and they all affected her in some way; they affected her life and her experiences with love. One night, Sissie and her family go out to a bar and when Sissie leaves a little earlier than usual she meets a man and, "'He is touching me with his hands. His mouth is soft but wants too much from me. I think; what is he doing? Do they all do this? Do I have it done to me too?'" (Oates, "Four Summers" 284). In this quote, Sissie is having an internal conflict because she is unsure of what is happening or what she should do about it. She hasn't really been loved enough when she was growing up and she is unsure of what it feels like or if what is happening is actual love. Towards the end of the story, "I Sissie let my hand fall onto my stomach to remind myself that I am in love: with this baby, with Jessie, with everything. I am in love with our house and our life and future and even this moment- right now- that I am struggling to live through." (Oates, "Four Summers" 284). In this quote, Sissie is having an another internal conflict with herself because she is trying to persuade herself that she is indeed in love with her life, when in reality she is not. Sissie is unhappy with her
present life and wants to change it, but she is too afraid to and she ends up facing her life whether she likes it or not. Sissie's conflict with herself, society and fate have affected her life in many ways and this also happens to Connie.
Connie has had many struggles to deal with in the story and they all affected how she faces life and her love life. Towards the end of, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" Connie was in her kitchen and, "She began to scream into the phone, into the roaring. She cried out, she cried for her mother." (Oates, "Where Have You Been" 249). Connie is trying to contact her mother for help even though they have a strained relationship and by attempting to call her mother proves that she doe love her mother in some way. Connie, a rebel, and her family don't always get a long very well and when she does try to call her mother or her family, it shows that Connie does indeed have a soft spot, love, towards her parents and siblings. "Her screaming, born of her encounter with evil, results in her trying to establish a proper relationship with another human being- in this case, her mother. That her attempt has succeeded is shown when she sacrifices herself by going out, at the end of the story, to meet her fate, thereby sparing her family a violent and deadly encounter." (Slimp, Oates's Where Have You Been 2). Towards the end of the short story, Connie is faced with a decision that can change her life forever and that is to stay at her home and have her family be brutally murdered or leave with Arnold Friend which can assure that her family is safe and alive. In the end, Connie ends up answering her internal conflict and leaving her home and family to go with Arnold Friend because she loves her family. Connie's conflicts have changed her life, forever, and her conflicts changed her views on life and love.
Throughout these two short stories, "Four Summers," and, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" share common themes which are forced love and facing reality which are expressed in different works of literary elements. Sissie and Connie lived in a world that resembles our own because of the use of allegory, and each characters suffered many different kinds of conflicts and the use of symbolism helped bring out the themes, forced love and facing reality. Towards the end of, "Four Summers," Sissie had thought about people and how, "their lives are like hands dealt out to them in their innumerable card games. You pick up the sticky cards, and there it is: there it is. Can't change anything, all you can do is switch some cards around, stick one in here, one over here… pretend there is some sense, a secret scheme."
Cushman, Keith. "A reading of Joyce Carol Oates's 'Four Summers'." High Lonesome 12 Aug 2002. Ebsco Host. Webster Thomas High School Library. 8 Nov 2007 /.
Barstow, Jane. "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" High Lonesome. Ebsco Host. Webster Thomas High School Library. 8 Nov 2007 /.
Easterly, Joan. "The Shadow of a Satyr in Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'" High Lonesome. 25 Jun 2002. Ebsco Host. Webster Thomas High School Library. 8 Nov 2007 /.
Oates, Joyce Carol. "Four Summers." High Lonesome. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. 284-303.
Oates, Joyce Carol. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" High Lonesome. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. 249-266.
Slimp, Stephen. "Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'" High Lonesome. 1 Jul 1991. Ebsco Host. Webster Thomas High School Library. 8 Nov 2007 /.