Is Arnold Friend meant to be the devil? A rapist and murderer? Is he actually Bob Dylan?

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There have already been some discussion on this story in regards to the devil symbolism. The story itself has a very ambiguous ending, and so the assessment of Arnold Friend as a murderer or rapist is also problematic. Joyce Carol Oates is certainly known for having her characters experience violent or unpleasant fates.

The notion that Friend (or the possible interpretations of what he stands for: loss of innocence, corruption, sexual maturity, etc.) may be a stand-in for Bob Dylan is interesting, given Oates' dedication of the story to Dylan. Of course Friend is not *actually* Bob Dylan, but his persona may represent Dylan's impact on the culture. The seriousness of his manner, the fact that he is much older than he appears (perhaps a commentary on Dylan being wise beyond his years?), the fact that he cannot be trusted, that he is not what he appears to be, that his arrival is fraught with both attraction and repulsion: all these possibilities and others may be arguably related to the effect Dylan's work and persona had upon the youth culture. Again, the power of this story lies in its ambiguity, and also in the fact that it remains so timeless after so long.

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