“Ladies and Gentlemen”
Ever go on vacation or to a movie and it takes a turn to the unexpected? That is exactly what the passengers in Joyce Carol Oates’ story “Ladies and Gentlemen” are experiencing. They signed up for a fabulous, top of the line, tropical cruise, however what they received was an old, run down, beaten, vermin filled cruise ship destined for the dry docks. Not to mention their “tropical island” is none other than their final destination.
The passengers realize that they are on a one-way cruise to nowhere. Their captain reveals to them that it was all their children’s idea. Their children are tired of waiting for their parents to die in order for them to inherit everything, so they take matters in to their own hands. As it shows one of the themes of this story is that outward appearance does not always depict reality; such as a standard cruise ship versus the Ariel, a tropical island versus the Island of Repose, and a traditional love of parents versus that of the passengers’ children.
When signing up for a cruise, it is expected to be a luxurious cruise ship. Cruises are thought to be big and fancy, with fabulous meals and decorations, a wide range of people all looking to see gorgeous tropical islands and have a wonderful staff to accompany them all on their journey. Although in Oates’ story it is the complete opposite. Oates reveals to us that it is a rundown ship destined for the dry docks, with rooms that are falsely depicted in the brochures. The Ariel is one disaster after another with its toilets that malfunction or those that are out of order all together, or the loud throbbing of the engine that keeps everyone awake at night. The rude service, improperly cooked meals along with the high prices on beverages and cigarettes add to the disaster that is the Ariel. As the captain states “the reported sightings of rodents, cockroaches, and other vermin on board the ship…” (Oates 374) slow just how poorly it was taken
care of. The Ariel is far from being a typical cruise ship.
When on a cruise it is expected to go to beautiful tropical islands and experience new cultures. It is expected that people go to islands like Hawaii, filled with exotic flowers, native people, safe, and fun. According to Oates, however, in her story she has the passengers of the Ariel go to an uncharted and dangerous island called the Island of Repose. “These are azure waters—exactly as the brochures promised!—but shark-infested, so take care (Oates 377).” This starts off the description we get of the island. Along with being told that the passengers are not the first to be left at this island, “countless others, whose bones you may discover should you have the energy and spirit to explore…(Oates 378).”
We continue to learn that the island’s jungle interior is filled with quicksand, and the winds blow across the island from several directions all at once, along with sand flies, and huge glittering dragonflies. We also find out about the several different kinds of snakes, such as the small quicksilver orange-speckled baya which is the most venomous. There are also carnivorous red-beaked macaws, bullfrogs the size of jackrabbits, spider monkeys, and tarantulas. We learn there are numerous plants but most of which are inedible. As we read, we learn just how unsafe the island is and how unlikely it is that the passengers will live long.
Before the passengers leave the ship, their captain reveals to them that the whole thing was arranged by none other than their own children. He continues to tell them that it is their own fault their children have done them in. The captain speaks of how their children do not have enough money and desperately want to inherit their parent’s estates. He states that because of them spoiling their children all their lives with the “Expensive toys and gifts of all kinds; closets of clothing, ski equipment…trips to the Caribbean, to Mexico, to Tangier, to Tokyo, to Switzerland…(Oates 377)” is the reason their children have done this to them. The captain blames the whole thing on the passengers. When reading this story we are completely caught off guard about how the children are revealed to be towards their parents. The norm is for children and parents to love each other no matter what the circumstances are. However in this case it is the complete
The theme can be taken as a lesson that things are not always as they appear. Just like the passengers within this story have learned that outward appearances are not always depicted as they are in reality. For example, their cruise ship, their “tropical island”, and the love their children gave them. After reading “Ladies and Gentlemen” by Joyce Carol Oates it is safe to say just how accurate the old saying of “never judge a book by its cover” is, and that it is something to always keep in mind.
Oates, Joyce Carol. “Ladies and Gentlemen.” Heat, and Other Stories. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Plume-Penguin, 1991. 373-80. Print.