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“Shopping” Joyce Carol Oates



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    A relationship between a mother and daughter may not be perfect at all times. There are many things that can make the job of being a mother tough and one of them is being a single mother. In the short story, “Shopping” by Joyce Carol Oates there is no exception to modern day hardships that come along the road of motherhood. The turbulence in Nola and Mrs. Dietrich relationship is shown during their shopping trip to the mall where Nola hardly speaks to her mother. Mrs. Dietrich refuses to let go of the child inside Nola. Nola was once an awkward girl, overweight, unhappy.

    She was prone to sharing her random knowledge when she was younger, much to the disappointment of her parents. “When they were alone Mr. Dietrich said angrily to Mrs. Dietrich, ‘Can’t you control her in front of people at least? Mrs. Dietrich was angry too, and frightened. She said, I try. ”(Oates 279. ) Nola had been very unpopular and serious at school. Nola sent away to Maine to attend a boarding school. She then matured into a young beautiful woman and that is when Mrs. Dietrich’s obsession with her daughter began to grow.

    Nola was home on vacations and all her mother wanted to do is spend time with her and go shopping, “an old ritual, Saturday morning shopping. ” (Oates 275. ) Nola was seventeen years of age she clearly didn’t want to spend her spring break vacations with her mother. Nola didn’t write or called her mother when she was gone. While Mrs. Dietrich drove to the mall that morning she tried to talk to Nola but she only got answers in monosyllables clearly indicating the lack of communication they had with each other. There is a great amount of change in Nola and Mrs.

    Dietrich is shocked and opposed to it. Mrs. Dietrich wants to be a part of her daughter life especially while she is vacations but it seems Nola feels the opposite way, “the trip to the mall has been postponed twice. ” ( Oates 276. ) Mrs. Dietrich is a woman left by her husband rather than being left with the financial responsibility we see that the two Nola and she are well taken care of. “Mr. Dietrich said guiltily that it was the least he could do for them. ” (Oates 278. ) The shopping trips between Mrs. Dietrich and Nola started when she was young. When Mr. and Mrs.

    Dietrich divorced the trips had more meaning to Mrs. Dietrich, like a therapy to her. Mrs. Dietrich is clearly an emotionally unwell individual who seems to cling to happier times through her daughter. The time of her daughters’ birth seems to be the happiest time in Mrs. Dietrich’s memory. After trying for many years to conceive a child, when the news came of Nola’s conception Mrs. Dietrich was overcome with joy. She also was the only person to know the sex of Nola before the birth. She thought to herself, “It would be herself again, this time reborn and this time perfect. (Oates 280. ) It is here that we begin to see Mrs. Dietrich as a flawed character. The reader gets the impression that she is a lonely alcoholic.

    While at the mall there are several references to Mrs. Dietrich’s possible drinking problem, “… and Mrs. Dietrich is beginning to feel the urgent need for a glass of white wine. Again while they are enjoying lunch together at La Creperie, Mrs. Dietrich quickly ends up on her third glass of wine, justifying it as a “celebration of sorts… their last shopping trip for some time. ” (Oates 282. The reader can see in this context the consumption of alcohol is likely to hide the pain she feels from the rejection of her daughter. Mrs. Dietrich first showed signs of longing for her daughter or even jealousy of her adaptation to a new life when Nola called home from the Portland Academy telling her mother how much she adored the school. In response, “Mrs. Dietrich broke down weeping, that time. ” (Oates 280. ) The reader cannot help but wonder if Mrs. Dietrich is truly upset that her daughter is gone, or if she is jealous that her daughter has made a new life outside of the shattered one which exists at home.

    Soon after this exchange, Nola comes home for one of their annual shopping trips and it is there which you can see her desire to break free of the mess that is her mother, and of that life. “Once, at a mall perhaps in this very store, in this very department, Nola saw Mrs. Dietrich watching her and walked away angrily…. “I can’t stand it, Mother. ” Her voice was choked and harsh, a vein prominent in her forehead. “Let me go. For Christ’s sake will you let me go. ” (Oates 179. ) The opposition to losing her daughter can be seen in a side note during their shopping trip. “Mrs. Dietrich has seen women friends and cquaintances of her own in the mall this morning but have shrunk from being noticed, not wanting to share her daughter with anyone. She has a sense of time passing ever more swiftly, carefully. ” (Oates 281. )

    Mrs. Dietrich does not necessarily cling to fond memories of Nola as a young girl, more so the idea of her daughter, of the love between the unborn daughter and child which is a bit unsettling to the reader. It is expressed: “She knows no more of how love ends than she knew as a child, she knows only of how love begins, in the belly, in the womb, where it is always present tense. ” (Oates 281. After a strained morning of shopping, during a silent lunch, Dietrich begins to reflect on her obsession with her daughter in a sense, analyzing who her daughter has become. Nola has once again become irritable and Mrs. Dietrich wishes she could ask Nola, “What’s wrong? Why are you unhappy?… What did I do wrong? Why do you hate me? ” (Oates 282. ) As they continue with lunch, a conversation comes about where Nola’s desire to spend the summer abroad in France is brought up. Of course, Mrs. Dietrich cannot comprehend this idea, her daughter being so far away so out of her reach, even further than she is now.

    After the conversation, the reader gets a glimpse into how deeply this hurts her. “Mrs. Dietrich is afraid her daughter will leave the restaurant, simply walk away, that has happened before and I it happens today she doesn’t know what she will do. ” (Oates 283. ) Sensing her mother’s pain over losing her grip, Nola seems to add fuel to the fire when she asks her mother, “Why don’t we talk about it. How exhausting it is… you and me… being together. ” (Oates 283. ) This interaction, for a brief moment fills Mrs.

    Dietrich with enough rage to almost be disassociated from her daughter. After a break from each other in the mall, they meet up again and when Mrs. Dietrich sees her daughter she is full of a different emotion, not longing for connection, but more of rage and hatred. “Cold, calm, clear unmistakable hatred. She thinking, who are you? What have I to do with you? I don’t know you. I don’t love you. Why should I? ” (Oates 284. ) It seems that Mrs. Dietrich is so far gone in herself loathing that she cannot understand that Nola is simply trying to become her own person, to become a woman.

    The reader at this point would imagine a natural progression of the character to let the daughter go. Instead, Mrs. Dietrich is so static and unbalanced that she makes one last attempt to connect with her daughter. Exiting the mall, she sees a homeless woman whom Nola had shown contempt for at the beginning of their day, while Mrs. Dietrich had shown nothing but disdain. While leaving she tries to act like she has pity for the woman. It is with this the reader can see that Mrs. Dietrich wants nothing more than her daughters approval and affection.

    “Shopping” Joyce Carol Oates. (2017, Mar 25). Retrieved from

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