Stalkingby Joyce Carol Oates Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On a cold, gritty November day, Gretchen follows the Invisible Adversary through muddy fields and past vacant buildings to a shopping mall, then to a Big Boy restaurant, and, finally, to her own suburban home. It is a landscape littered with the debris of a burgeoning middle America, with its developing tract home subdivisions, detouring traffic, gas stations, banks, restaurants, and stores. The realistic portrayal of the landscape is infused with the sensibility of a young teenager who is so detached from her surroundings and other people that she displays an utter disregard for the consequences of her actions.

Gretchen has hours for her game of stalking on this Saturday afternoon, and her sheer plodding determination is menacing in its relentlessness. In contrast to the Invisible Adversary, who has “long spiky legs brisk as colts’ legs,” Gretchen “is dressed for the hunt, her solid legs crammed into old blue jeans, her big, square, strong feet jammed into white leather boots that cost her mother forty dollars not long ago, but are now scuffed and filthy with mud. Hopeless to get them clean again, Gretchen doesn’t give a damn.” Her face, too, is strong, yet neutral and detached. More than just teenage angst, Gretchen’s impassivity seems to reflect a deeper discontent and the possibility for destruction.

As the Adversary taunts her, Gretchen follows him through a field to a new gas station that has not opened in the six months that her family has lived in the town. The new building now has broken windows, and snakelike tar has been smeared on the white wall. Cars move past her as they detour because of construction on storm sewer pipes. She remembers the Adversary, and...

(The entire section is 698 words.)