I Lock My Door Upon Myself

If a writer’s palette is his life, then the prolific and versatile Joyce Carol Oates has lived many lives. In I LOCK MY DOOR UPON MYSELF, inspired by Fernand Khnopff’s painting, Oates examines yet another human enigma. One sees the principal character, Edith Margaret Honeystone, through the eyes of her granddaughter. Yet at times Edith, whom her mother named Calla before dying, speaks directly to the reader, as though she will break free of any but her own perspective, the any but her own restraints.

Calla’s name, taken from the Calla lily, was not her baptismal name, nor was it what she was called. Only she, and later her black lover, used it. Her husband never even knew it. Thus “Calla,” with its connotations of whiteness, of purity, of biblical ease and freedom, and of death, resounds throughout the novel like a secret spell, an icon of a woman’s fate.

Young Calla is not a stiff, sedate lily, but a wildflower, in her rambles in the woods, in her disinterest in “proper” human relations, in her feral innocence. She marries a man she does not love and bears him three children out of indifference. Then as she wanders in the woods one day she sees Tyrell Thompson, the son of a former slave, a drifter, a man who is the friend of water, who can find it with a divining rod, no matter how deep under the ground it lies.

The passion between these two culminates, in the year 1912, in their final rendezvous. a triumphant and...

(The entire section is 406 words.)