Several other themes prevalent in Oates' fiction permeate We Were the Mulvaneys. Three of the most important involve violence, religion, and art. The pivotal event of the novel is an act of sexual predation, but behind it lies a culture that accepts, as the title of one chapter puts it, that "Boys Will Be Boys." Prior to his marriage to Corinne, Michael had been a sexual "predator," using his charm to exploit college girls. Mike, Jr. asserts his manhood by sneaking out at night to sleep with his girlfriend and, although he is never shown as sexually violent, he often comes home drunk after he has been with her. He is aroused at the thought of group sex between some of his acquaintances in high school and a girl, reputed to be retarded, whom they make drunk. Oates may have based this episode on a highly publicized actual rape case where most of the town denied that their sons could have been involved, a culture of denial that echoes in the novel when the parents of the rapist refuse to believe that Marianne did not ask for it. Even Marianne has been so indoctrinated into the belief that boys will be boys that she blames herself for encouraging her rapist.
One way of facing a culture of violence and of uncertainty is to embrace religion. Corinne, especially, finds support in religion that lies outside the mainstream because when she was a child she was saved during a snowstorm when she saw fireflies lighting her way to shelter. To believe in...
(The entire section is 483 words.)