Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Oates examines the phenomena of the charismatic evangelist and individual religious experience in depth. The narrative allows for two opposing interpretations of the life of Nathan Vickery. As an abused, sensitive child exposed to rabid religious sentiment, Nathan is ripe for the onset of visions. The physical description of his episodes suggests seizures and possible schizophrenia. Nathan in this sense is a victim of his sordid beginnings and unfortunate cultural upbringing. Encouraged in his religious fervor, untutored in normal human interactions, and revered by thousands as having special knowledge and favor, Nathan eventually believes himself to be the monster that they have created. Through all of this, he seeks most fervently his own redemption, an intimacy with the spirit of God that he has never known among his own people.
A second interpretation of Nathan’s experience provokes a startling, though no less tragic, conclusion. If readers allow themselves to believe that Nathan’s religious experience is valid, that he truly communes with God and seeks to follow His will, then Nathan’s evolution follows a path that leads him increasingly farther from humanity. To believe in the biblical messages as fully as Nathan does causes him to retreat from personal contact; to accept the message that God is all we need drives him further away. When Nathan understands that his followers and even his fellow preachers do not share his intense understanding,...
(The entire section is 348 words.)
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