Joyce Oates' "Life After High School" and Characterization

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Joyce Carol Oates’ “Life After High School” is a story of the evolution of two dynamic characters, Sunny and Zachary. Both figuratively wear masks in the beginning of the story which they eventually struggle to hang on to and eventually shed. A theme of the story is the societal standards and it's effects on our behavior and disposition. Important to note is the context of the story; it begins in 1959 in a high school. Important are societal views on sexuality and the traditionally collectivist-type society of high school settings where there is safety in numbers and danger in sticking out. Sunny's mask was her nickname. As Barbara, she is plain, but as sunny she is pure, happy, and too good to be true. She was involved and "normal" and lived up to the expectations her society her bound her to by her nickname. Zachary's mask is his appearance, behind which, he hid his sexuality. For sunny, it became hard to hold onto her mask when Zachary talked to her. She wanted to show her agitation towards Zachary and even her friends urged her to, but she had to live up to her name and be sweet. Zachary pushed his glasses, constantly, to his face when talking to her, as if they (his mask) might fall off. Zachary's mask was removed when he committed suicide. His "way out" was to escape society entirely. He was striped to his underwear- all limitations dropped. Sunny was forced out from behind her mask by the death. She was no longer sunny andno longer had to be; she was freed of living up to the status of her nickname. While both masks were shed, for Zachary, there was no life after high school, but for sunny, her life began as she had evolved, truly dynamically, to be an individual.
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