Coming of Age in Joyce Carol Oates Works

Joyce Carol Oates uses characterization and the coming of age effectively in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”, “Four Summers”, and “The Girl with the Blackened Eye”. She uses it to connect the three stories to each other. Connie and the girl in “The Girl with the Blackened Eye” are connected because they were both violated by a man. Connie and Sissie were both connected because they were both influenced by their families’ ways on how they lived their lives. Joyce Carol Oates is noted for her ability to create stories with terror and also known for the descriptive violence in her portrayals of America life.

Gothic elements, emphasizing the mysterious and horrifying suspects of life also appear frequently in Oates’s writing. Violence, often male and sexual, consistently plays an important role in the lives of her characters. Oates’s female characters are abused and tormented by men in various ways. Joyce Carol Oates uses violence in two out of the three short stories I read. In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”, Connie is taken away from her home and her family by a man. In “The Girl with the Blackened Eye”, a girl is forcibly abducted and raped by a serial killer. They never give the girl an actual name.

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Joyce Carol Oates is known for writing about violence towards women. These two girls were both forced to grow up fast. Oates uses characterization to show how her characters are seen by the audience. Both Connie and the other girl have to be strong. They are faced with violence from a man. These girls are strong Connie at first wants to be grown and be wiser than she is. She wants to get attention from boys and men older than her. Connie has nothing going for her and nothing else to go off of buy her looks. She is beautiful. Everybody else sees that she is beautiful to. That can be a dangerous thing and for Connie it was.

She goes around flirting and wears provocative clothes. Connie has a split personality. She acts one way when she is at home and on way when she is around her friends. When she is at home her sexuality goes into hiding. All that changes when she is bought into a situation where it causes her personalities to merge. Connie’s sexuality doesn’t show until Arnold Friend intrudes her home. Before her sexuality was a part of her outer self, the side she only allowed her family to see. Connie tries hard to prove her maturity, despite her clothes she has on and the music she is listening to. She is not as mature as she would like to be.

All this time she tries to get all kinds of attention from older men, until she comes into contact with Arnold Friend. She is terrified now, more than ever. When Arnold arrives she tries to seem in control and unfazed by the situation and what he is saying to her. She is overpowered by him. She breaks down and goes with him because she knows if she doesn’t he will hurt her family. 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.

Connie is “lured to almost certain sexual violation and death by the once seductive and menacing Arnold Friend” (Dickinson 202). She made a sacrifice for her family. Connie hesitates at first, but “she, unable to remain in the world of innocence, crosses the threshold represented by the kitchen door and enters into the world of experience” (Gillis 174). She is finally being mature, but when she is in a moment of fear she proves to be a child by calling out to her mother. The girl in “The Girl with the Blackened Eye” is never given a name. She is abducted and raped by a serial killer. This girl has similar issues as Connie.

They are both put in a situation where they have no choice but to give up. This woman is now 43 years old telling her story for the first time. She is even telling her husband for the first time. She was abducted by a serial killer when she was 15. She never tried to fight. Her and her attacker shared something together. He gave her food and water. She was special to him. They ate together and he spared her life for quite a while. He gave her chance to get away. He left the car with her and they keys in the ignition. She was rescued. Before he was killed he told the police where the cabin was located so that they could rescue her.

She meant something to him. They had some kind of bond because she didn’t try to get away. She didn’t want to break his trust. “He trusted me, and I could not betray that trust. Even if he would kill me, I could not betray him” (The Girl 83). She accepted that this was going to be her life. Even if she hadn’t been so beaten and worn out, she probably wouldn’t have tried to escape. She to like Connie is proving to be a child by calling out to her mother. “I must’ve looked to him like a child. I was crying a lot, and calling mommy! Mom-my! ”(“The Girl with the Blackened Eye”, 76).

Joyce Carol Oates also uses the coming of age in many of her short stories. Both Connie and Sissie face tough decisions that could impact their lives and their experiences with love. Connie is similar to Sissie in “Four Summers”. Sissie is retelling four summers of her life. These summers depict Sissie’s childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Since Sissie is the narrator the reader never sees the outside of her self-descriptions. Sissie’s emotional development is heavily influenced by her family. Her parents are drinkers, who chose the only life that they knew. She feels that she cannot break the cycle that she is in.

Sissie is “grown in sophistication and self-awareness, but she is just as frightened as she was at the beginning” (Cushman 138). Sissie’s descriptions of her family show an awareness of how she to is being shaped to be just like her mother. Her awareness was a little too late. She ends up pregnant and marrying a man just like her father. Connie and Sissie both struggle with family issues. Sissie has to grow up fast as well as Connie. Sissie is forced into a lot of things she does not want to do. She is even forced to drink beer by her own parents. That can really take an effect on how a child grows up.

She had no kind of love from her parents. All she knew was that they were her parents and that she was destined to follow in the same cycle they were in. Connie faces the difficult transition from girlhood to womanhood. Connie also does not have a good relationship with her family. She seems disconnect from them and she lives in her own world. Since Connie does not have an open relationship with her family, they do not know what is going on with her life. She is a rebellious teenager. She wants to be older than she really is. She is caught between her roles as daughter, friend, sister, and an object of sexual desire. Everything about her had two sides to it, on for home and one for anywhere that was not home” (“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” 422).

When she is introduced to Arnold, she cannot pretend anymore. She is introduced into adulthood. Just like Sissie, Connie’s family is responsible in how she chose to live her life because her family was not involved in her life. Even though her family was not that involved in her life that much “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 eadly encounter” (Slimp 181). Joyce Carol Oates uses characterization and the coming of age effectively to connect “The Girl with the Blackened Eye”, “Four Summers”, and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ” All these girls had something in common. Joyce Carol Oates used those two things to find the connection between these three girls. They had to mature faster than other and one even had to give her life because of it. The things these girls had in common was courage!

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Coming of Age in Joyce Carol Oates Works. (2017, Mar 29). Retrieved from