23 March 2015
Kooks and Killers
Joyce Carol Oates’s short story, “Hi Howya Doin,” follows a “good-looking husky guy,” who is described as “six-foot-four in late twenties or early thirties,” and is a “Caucasian male” (Oates 214) through his jogging session around a college campus. Throughout the man’s route he comes across strangers in his path that all seem to have lackluster lives, and every time the man comes across these strangers he shouts the phrase “Hi! Howya doin!” at them. The man continues to shout the phrase at anyone in his path until he comes across the one person he shouldn’t have said it to. As the man comes across this person who seems to not want to be bothered by anybody, he shouts his infamous phrase and gets a bullet to his body as a response. Readers might ask themselves how someone can just murder another person for just asking them a question, but was the man really an innocent victim? Could the phrase “hi howya doin” really be as harmless as it sounds? Oates asks this in the literary piece and it is up to the readers to find out the answers on their own based on the subtle hints and details. For instance, Oates’ description of the man makes him seem as though he is the epitome of perfection, and her description of the people he comes across is quite the opposite. This could cause the people to interpret the phrase “hi howya doin” as a sort of condescending insult. For this reasoning, the story should be considered a Marxist read and thus requiring the readers to use a Marxist lense.
Joyce Carol Oates writes “Hi, Howya Doin” with a hidden message of sorts, thus having the readers interpret the story in different ways. For instance, a reader might interpret this story as a perfectly normal man who was unfortunate enough to come across the wrong person to talk to and is murdered. Although this may be the summary of “Hi, Howya Doin,” there is more to the story. The way that Oates describes her characters in the story is crucial to understanding the true theme of it. As previously described, the man is pictured to be every man’s envy and every woman’s dream, meanwhile the people he comes across are described and pictured to be uninteresting and lackluster. Oates uses this contrast technique in order to enhance the difference between the powerful man and the weak people in his way. Oates describes one of the people that the man encounters as, “…female in her late thirties, flushed face, downturned eyes, dark hair threaded with gray like cobwebs, an awkward runner, fleshy lips parted, holds her arms stiff at her sides, in a shrunken pull over shirt…not-large but sizeable breasts…” (Oates 214). Throughout the story the characters are similarly represented and all serve the purpose of just making the man seem as if he hovers over them. That is until he comes across the one person that stands up to him and brings the man back to earth, in unsettling fashion. With this evidence, one could argue that this work is aimed to represent the lower class and that it is up to them to bring balance and justice back to society. Those are the values that are being reinforced in this piece, balance between the classes and justice to the lower class, or proletariat masses.
On the other hand, the story “Hi Howya Doin” also subverts other values, such as oppression and power. The work has a sort of class struggle in the sense that the man, high class bourgeoisie, jogs through, or triumphs amongst, the people who have nothing of value and importance, low class proletariats. In the story Joyce Carol Oates writes, “…Hi! Howya doin! rings out loud and bemused like an elbow in Diane’s left breast as the stranger pounds past her…” (Oates 215). The quote describes that this particular person is frightened and figuratively struck by the phrase “hi howya doin” and the man yelling it. Similar to how the lower class feel as though they are being abused by the higher classes. The...
Cited: Oates, Joyce Carol. "Hi Howya Doin." Literature to Go. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2014. 214-217. Print.
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