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I would say that the most relevant theme out of Oates' work lies in the emotional frigidity of Sister Irene. Oates is deliberate in carving out a characterization that exists in emotional frigidity. She uses the academy as one barrier to enable this isolation from other people. When this fails, she uses the habit as another form of isolating her from people. It is interesting to note that in their most theoretical forms, both realms are actually used to forge connections between human beings. The academic is one who understands more of human experience and can speak from a broader base of knowledge and understanding to forge connections with others, while the habit is one of the most intense manners of searing links with other human beings. It is here where I think that Oates is suggesting that a major theme is that human beings can often seek to avoid human contact, even when it is begging to be present. Oates' characterization of Sister Irene is one in which this frigidity is present, and there might be a vision of what human beings should try to avoid. In the end, Sister Irene constructs what she considers to be happiness, but it is one where emotional frigidity is the only reality that she can and ever will know.
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