Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The short story is a third-person narrative but is limited omniscient, meaning that the reader experiences events from Anna’s perspective and is directly aware of only Anna’s emotions and thoughts. This technique underscores Anna’s emotional isolation because her ups and downs suggest manic-depressive behavior, as well as an obsessive desire to find fulfillment in a relationship with a man, all driving her to suicidal thoughts.
The narrative perspective also emphasizes that her marriage and affair have the same effect on Anna. With her husband, she feels like a shadow of a woman, strangely detached from life and lacking boundaries, giving way to suicidal thoughts and an abortive attempt at her own life, revealing how little she relates to her own body. After a particularly disappointing meeting with her lover, she splashes water on her face, first leading briefly to suicidal thoughts of drowning but then shifting to homicidal thoughts about her lover and his family. She feels insignificant. Anna fails to realize that, for her happiness, neither man matters, as is symbolized by both remaining nameless.
The metaphor of water plays a central role. Generally a symbol of the unconscious, water is connected to emotional breakthroughs for Anna. She experiences water as something that drowns her and, therefore, triggers suicidal thoughts. In the final scene, she again has suicidal thoughts but then feels flooded by her joyous realization that...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Bender, Eileen Teper. Joyce Carol Oates: Artist in Residence. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.
Cologne-Brookes, Gavin. Dark Eyes on America: The Novels of Joyce Carol Oates. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005.
Creighton, Joanne V. Joyce Carol Oates: Novels of the Middle Years. New York: Twayne, 1992.
Daly, Brenda O. Lavish Self-Divisions: The Novels of Joyce Carol Oates. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.
Johnson, Greg. Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Dutton, 1998.
Johnson, Greg. Understanding Joyce Carol Oates. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987.
Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed. Critical Essays on Joyce Carol Oates. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979.
(The entire section is 112 words.)