Son of the Morning (Magill's Literary Annual 1979)
At the end of the first book of Wonderland (1971), Joyce Carol Oates’s fifth novel, Jesse, the young protagonist, is found gorging food—four full Chinese dinners, handfuls of Hershey bars, six hamburgers with chile sauce, and three large orders of French fries. After he finishes it all off with a chocolate shake, he opens a letter left him by his stepfather. The letter tells him that he is no longer a member of the family that adopted him, that he is dead to the Pedersons. This situation—full of insatiable hunger (food as metaphor for both life and love) for sustenance, but ending in rejection—nicely epitomizes the pervasive theme of Joyce Carol Oates’s new work, Son of the Morning. The long novel traces, not the desires of the flesh, as so many of her other works do, but the desires of the soul for union with God, the One. This spiritual lust for transcendence ends, as above, in betrayal and in isolation not only from the One but from all of humanity. While chronicling the journey of the central character in his spiritual quest, Oates also informs us of the current world of evangelical religion: its hungry adherents and its predatory leaders.
The central character, Nathan William Vickery, is not a typical Oatesian creation, one of those rather undifferentiated figures of her mythical Eden River Valley stories and novels,...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Bender, Eileen Teper. Sacred and Profane Visions. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Discusses Son of the Morning.
Friedman, Ellen G. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Extensive discussion of Oates’s early work. Examines Son of the Morning in an epilogue.
Johnson, Greg. Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Dutton, 1998. Extensive critical biography of Oates.
Wagner, Linda, ed. Critical Essays on Joyce Carol Oates. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979. Contains essays on Oates’s individual works, including an essay on Son of the Morning.
Waller, G. F. Dreaming America: Obsession and Transcendence in the Fiction of Joyce Carol Oates. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979. Discusses Oates’s early work mainly through comparison of her with D. H. Lawrence.
Watanabe, Nancy Ann. Love Eclipsed: Joyce Carol Oates’s Faustian Moral Vision. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1998. Uses rather elevated academic language to discuss the author’s theory regarding Oates’s work, including Son of the Morning.
(The entire section is 160 words.)