Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart is divided into three parts and an epilogue. With the exception of the omniscient perspective of part 1, the narrative is presented from the third-person point of view, allowing Oates to explore the perspectives of many different characters.
Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart explores the impact of race and class on the formation of identity in America. Oates uses four families to illustrate this: the poor white Garlocks, the struggling black Fairchilds, the ambitious working-class Courtneys, and the upper-class Savages. All the individual characters are placed within the larger context of their families and social class.
The novel begins in 1956 with the discovery of the corpse of Little Red Garlock, the demented son of a poor white family. After this discovery, the novel begins its large second section, moving back three years in time to 1953. This crucial section concerns the relationship between Iris Courtney, a white working-class teenager, and Jinx Fairchild, a black teenager and star basketball player. It is Jinx who accidentally murders Little Red. In defending Iris against this repulsive sexual bully, Jinx finds himself committing a violent act that forges a secretive and powerful bond with Iris.
Iris Courtney is the central consciousness of the novel. Ambitious and bright, Iris is seeking to overcome the obstacles presented to her by her social class and by her alcoholic mother, Persia, and her gambler father, Duke. After the murder, Iris develops an erotic attachment to Jinx; she continues her obsession with him even after he breaks off their relationship. This is a side of...
(The entire section is 696 words.)