Foxfire (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang tells of girls lost in the bland, male 1 950’s, but girls who band together to work out a revenge for what has happened to women before and since. Foxfire is thus a novel about crimes against women and about what happens to the young women who unite to fight the people and the system that perpetuate those crimes.
The novel begins on November 12, 1952, when sixteen-year-old Legs Sadovsky escapes from her grandmother’s house in Plattsburgh, New York-where the State Department of Human Welfare Services has sent her to get her away from her “unsuitable” Hammond home-and shows up at the home of Maddy Wirtz. That “is how FOXFIRE will come to be born.” On New Year’s Day, 1953, five Hammond high-school girls tattoo each other with the gang’s sacred emblem-a tall, erect flame-and sign their allegiance to FOXFIRE (it is always capitalized in Maddy’s chronicles). All outsiders, poor white teenagers from broken homes, they find in FOXFIRE the identity they never had in their dysfunctional families. Maddy’s father, for example, is dead, her mother not available; Legs’s mother is dead, and Ab Sadovsky, with his various girlfriends, may not be her real father. Under the leadership of Legs Sadovsky, the girls find love and purpose, and that purpose is aimed directly at men and at sexual exploitation.
Their first act of revenge is against Mr. Buttinger, the ninth-grade mathematics...
(The entire section is 1882 words.)
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Joyce Carol Oates’s Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang is a novel about young women lost in the violent male-dominated 1950’s who band together to work out a revenge for what has happened to women before and since. Foxfire is thus a novel about crimes against women in the United States and about what happens to the young women who unite to fight the people and the systems that perpetuate those crimes.
The novel begins when sixteen-year-old “Legs” Sadovsky escapes from her grandmother’s house in Plattsburgh, New York—where the State Department of Human Welfare Services has sent her to get away from her “unsuitable” Hammond home—and shows up at the house of Maddy Wirtz. It is November 12, 1952, and that “is how FOXFIRE will come to be born.” On New Year’s Day, 1953, five Hammond high school girls tattoo one another with the gang’s sacred emblem—a tall erect flame—and sign their allegiance to FOXFIRE (as it is always capitalized in Maddy’s chronicles). All outsiders, all poor white teenagers from broken homes, they find in FOXFIRE the identity that they never had in their dysfunctional families. For example, Maddy’s father is dead, and her mother is emotionally or physically unavailable to her for much of the novel. Under the leadership of Legs Sadovsky, however, the girls find love and purpose, and that purpose is directed against men and sexual exploitation.
Their first act of vengeance is...
(The entire section is 741 words.)
Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Foxfire is a 1990’s novel looking backward, for its subject and its perspective clearly reveal a contemporary feminist understanding of the exploitation and sexual violence inflicted upon women. In a sense, Foxfire most resembles a novel such as E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime (1975), which takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century, but which has at its center a violent black gang and thus projects a 1970’s racial consciousness onto the early 1900’s. Likewise, Foxfire is a novel of the 1950’s written with a 1990’s feminist consciousness: The crimes are those of the 1950’s, but the perspective is that of several decades later, when questions of race, class, gender—even animal rights—would move center stage.
Foxfire contains many recognizable Oates trademarks. In work after work, she has probed the situation of naïve young women seduced by some powerful male figure. In her classic 1970 story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” for example, it is the demonic Arnold Friend who lures the young Connie to her death. In the story “How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Correction and Began My Life Over Again,” from about the same time, it is the drug addict Simon who seduces the high school-aged narrator. In the novel Black Water (1992), the powerful unnamed “Senator” drives the naïve Kelly Kelleher to her death (in a car accident which anticipates...
(The entire section is 350 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bender, Eileen Teper. Joyce Carol Oates, Artist in Residence. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Bender sees Oates “as a writer who is always in some sense a critic” and considers “her intentions and achievements as part of a larger statement about contemporary American life and letters.”
Bloom, Harold, ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. This collection of essays “brings together a representative selection of the most useful criticism so far devoted to the work of Joyce Carol Oates.”
Booklist. LXXXIX, March 15, 1993, p.1275. A review of Foxfire.
Boston Globe. August 1, 1993, p.35. A review of Foxfire.
Chicago Tribune. August 8, 1993, XIV, p.3. A review of Foxfire.
Creighton, Joanne V. Joyce Carol Oates: Novels of the Middle Years. New York: Twayne, 1992. A discussion of fifteen of Oates’s novels written between 1977 and 1990; in American Appetites (1989) and Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart (1990), for example, “the American dream is fractured by an unintentional killing; in both, violence is an upwelling of tension, breaking through the civil games of society and the conscious control of character; in both, appetites remain...
(The entire section is 452 words.)