Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Oates’s main purpose is to depict the impact of race and class in America. The tragedy of Jinx Fairchild suggests that while the black man can use the narrow venue of sports as a way to achieve the American Dream, he is still largely disenfranchised. Race and class have also formed the character of Iris Courtney. Her increasingly erotic relationship with Jinx must be kept secret; in addition, the status of Jinx as a forbidden love seems to intensify her feelings. Iris cannot have a relationship with Jinx that is not premised on the racism of her society.
While Iris does not have the barriers of race to prevent her from rising in the world, her success is a betrayal of her class and of herself. The idyllic life of the Savages contrasts in an almost grotesque way with the novel’s previous scenes of turmoil and tragedy. For all their charm, the Savages preside over an America of injustice and inequality. By making sure the Savages do not appear until the final section of the novel, Oates demonstrates their separation from the rest of America. It is Iris who has the eyes to see that America is “two nations.” Although she looks as if she is one of the elite, her roots are in the working-class town of Hammond, home of the “other” America. Yet the sense of liberation and security Iris enjoys has come at a cost. The Savages, like a test case from Sigmund Freud’s analysis of civilization and its discontents, in which desire is renounced in exchange...
(The entire section is 509 words.)
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The central event of Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart is Jinx Fairchild's murder of Little Red Garlock while Iris Courtney, the girl Garlock has been chasing, watches. Like Marya (1986) and You Must Remember This (1987), Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart examines the connection between adolescence and violence, and, like them, it is more controlled and purposeful in its intent than Oates's early fiction. Iris Courtney's journey from her adolescence in the small upstate New York city of Hammond to Syracuse University replicates Marya's journey. Like Marya, Iris protects herself from the scars of her father's drinking and gambling, of her mother's alcoholism and promiscuity, and of her parents' eventual divorce by adopting a cold, shell-like exterior. Despite its bleak view of the quality of life in mid-twentieth-century America, Oates finds a way of endorsing the fact that this kind of life is better than no life at all.
Where You Must Remember This found something sustaining in the metaphor of the controlled violence of boxing, Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart finds beauty in the metaphor of art and photography. Iris becomes an art major at Syracuse and her uncle is a photographer who regularly photographs her and her mother. The photograph is a pose, just as Iris's parents' early life together was a pose and Iris's marriage to the son of one of her art professors...
(The entire section is 602 words.)