A Closer Look at Joyce

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s): 78
  • Published: December 6, 2012
Read full document
Text Preview
A Closer Look at We Were the Mulvaneys
Joyce Carol Oates caught the hearts and attention of many when she wrote We Were the Mulvaneys. Oates was born during the Great Depression, a time when feminism and gender played a big role in her life. (Powers 333). Even as a small child, she enjoyed writing. She majored in English and eventually earned her master’s degree. Shortly after, she taught at the University of Detroit, University of Windsor, and at Princeton. Aside from her teaching career, she also wrote several novels. Oates wrote under various pennames such as, Rosamond Smith, Fernandes/Oates, and Lauren Kelly. She wrote many novels, short stories, poetry, nonfiction books, literary criticism, essays, dramas, and screenplays (“Joyce Carol Oates” 1). Her tragic story, We Were the Mulvaneys, was published in 1996. This was also Oates’ first novel picked for Oprah’s Book Club in 2001. Oates takes her readers on an emotional rollercoaster as she tries to tell the story of a once perfect family that lost everything. In We Were the Mulvaneys, Oates tells a heart-wrenching story that questions the motives of human nature.

Even though they are subtle, there are small details in We Were the Mulvaneys that were also real in Oates’ life. With all of her bleak and dark themes, it may come as a shock that her childhood was emotionally stable (Powers 333). Her father was a tool-and-die designer and her mother was a homemaker. In the novel, the father, Michael, and mother, Corinne, had similar jobs; Michael owned a roofing business and Corinne kept the family and house orderly. She grew up on her grandparent’s farm in New York; coincidentally or not, the main setting and symbol was also a farm in New York. Many of her novels carry dark plots, often incorporated with some sort of abuse or violence. As a teenager, she claimed to have been terrorized by molesters (Powers 333). In We Were the Mulvaneys, Marianne became a victim of rape at a young age on her prom night. Born in 1938, Oates saw the injustices women faced, this resulting in her bringing up many issues about women’s rights in her literary works. Marilyn C. Wesley praises Oates for “compelling readers to experience the inadequacies and injustices of the past” and challenging “restrictive gender ideology” (“Joyce Carol Oates” 2). This novel expresses the unfairness the victim, Marianne, faces from her friends and family, as opposed to her rapist. Oates began publishing novels in 1963, We Were the Mulvaneys, her twenty-sixth novel, holds the same tragic themes as many of her other novels. Oates tended to write many of her novels based upon her surroundings and events that happened in her life, as well as others.

We Were the Mulvaneys raises questions and praise from many critics. Like many of her other novels, this particular one received mixed reviews: “We Were the Mulvaneys has a cumulative power and generosity of spirit that makes it one of Oates’ finest efforts” (Upchurch 5). While some critics commended this novel, others disliked it saying Oates “damaged the story’s flow to provide a crowd-pleasing conclusion” (Kelly 1). Most of her novels plots are known to be dark and violent. Yet, her conclusion in this particular novel ends uncharacteristically optimistic, causing critics to question Oates’ motives. Other critics have trouble with her “repeated use of graphic violence and distorted vision of American life” (“Joyce Carol Oates” 2). Defending her work, she states: “We are prone to violence, and it would be unreal to ignore this fact. What intrigues me is the response to violence: its aftermath” (“Joyce Carol Oates” 2). Through her books, she emphasizes the harsh realities that most authors try to avoid. Some people criticize her straightforward writing. Others praise her for going beyond the normal and challenging readers to think and analyze, even the smallest details. Valerie Miner recognizes the value of her work and the complexities of her stories: “One of our...
tracking img