Analysis of Tusk by Joyce Carol Oates

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By Joyce Carol Oates

Abnormal and captivating. These would be some of the keywords of the essay Tusk by Joyce Carol Oates. It tells the story of a young boy named Roland Landrau, but he addresses himself as Tusk. Tusk is somewhat Roland’s alter-ego where he in his mind is the cool guy at school. Already in the first sentence of the story, it pulls the reader in and reeks of something wrong and something exciting.

“As the knife fitted into Tusk’s hand, an idea fitted into his head”[1]

The story begins in medias res and grips the reader from the very start. The fact that Oates rushes into the story and at the same time introduces a knife in the hand of the main character would be reasons to keep on reading. The wordplay is also noticeable in this sentence with the way she uses the verb “fitted” both physically with a knife in the hand and mentally with an idea in the head. Tusk’s father is dead and his mother is his only provider. His father was a tough man with his own methods on raising a child.

“Roland junior who never seemed to learn (dumb-ass kid! it’s hard to feel sorry for such a shithead) that he must look Daddy in the eye and not shrink or cringe or bust into tears which really infuriated Daddy…[2]”

Tusk has a lot of schizophrenic tendencies which is show in the narrative technique. In the quote above he distances himself from his past and weaknesses by narrating of himself in third person. He no longer sees himself as the person he claims Roland junior were. The fact that he has baptized himself Tusk is also a sign of this. He speaks of Roland junior as a little weak kid and of Tusk almost as an awesome super-human. The way the passage I have chosen is written, is also a sign of how it is to be inside Tusk’s head. He disengages himself from his former self and even insults this Roland junior who was cowering for his dad. The father’s behaviour must have had an impact on his level of respect for this man. This is based on the passage I...
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