Waiting by Joyce Carol Oates Analysis

Joyce Carol Oates

Style and Technique (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title of the story reflects its form. Oates subverts the reader’s expectations: namely, that Katherine is the only character “waiting.” Everyone around Katherine has been waiting: The mother waits for her daughter’s success; the fiancé waits for his lover’s acceptance; the welfare “candidates” wait for the social worker’s attention; Mr. Mott waits for revenge.

Oates uses this important verb twice in the final paragraphs of the story. Mr. Mott reveals: “For six years I been waiting to run into one of you—” After Mr. Mott has beaten Katherine, the narrator states very simply that “she waited.” He has been waiting to vent his rage; she has been waiting to weep. The reader has also been waiting: The title of the story works as a kind of riddle, solved in the story’s conclusion. Through shifts in the narrative focus, Mr. Mott remains a peripheral concern to the story. He seems an annoyance, a diversion from the main story line; yet in the final scene he overwhelms Katherine and the reader with a ruthless reality that has been lurking in the background for pages.

Waiting Bibliography (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bender, Eileen Teper. Joyce Carol Oates: Artist in Residence. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Cologne-Brookes, Gavin. Dark Eyes on America: The Novels of Joyce Carol Oates. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005.

Creighton, Joanne V. Joyce Carol Oates: Novels of the Middle Years. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Daly, Brenda O. Lavish Self-Divisions: The Novels of Joyce Carol Oates. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.

Johnson, Greg. Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Dutton, 1998.

Johnson, Greg. Understanding Joyce Carol Oates. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987.

Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed. Critical Essays on Joyce Carol Oates. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979.