Waiting by Joyce Carol Oates Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the story begins, the reader is caught in the middle of miscommunication. Bob Mott is trying to explain to Katherine Alexander why he has lost his job. She is distracted; he is embarrassed. She is suspicious, slightly disgusted by Mr. Mott. The narrator abruptly shifts attention to Katherine’s life story. She has grown up barely admiring her retired father, frightened of becoming her struggling, unattractive mother. Her older sisters have married; her older brother, returned from the navy, works in a parts factory. Katherine supports her mother, yet she has saved enough to earn a degree from the university in the School of Social Work.

In her senior year, Katherine meets a young man who is studying to become a dentist. Although at first he is “on the rebound” from a love affair, he eventually falls in love with Katherine. As they begin to plan for marriage, Katherine’s mother becomes ill. The consequent gall bladder operation is “a vast and complicated affair” that interrupts the young couple’s plans. Katherine begins her social work; the young man strains over his studies; the mother becomes nervous for her daughter. Impatient after months, then years, of delay, the young man ends their relationship. Katherine is devastated—mostly by his “weakness.”

After this happens, at age twenty-six, it seems that Katherine grows closer to her mother—sharing a loneliness. Her energies are devoted almost exclusively to work. She becomes expert at distinguishing the truth from lies. She also...

(The entire section is 623 words.)