In "Four Summers" and "Where Are You Going, Where Have you Been?" what is the theme of love and death?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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These two excellent stories by Joyce Carol Oates combine to comment about love and death through very different ways. In "Four Summers," the key comment about love and death is linked to the romantic love that is so often connected in the public imagination with marriage and eternal happiness. Even though the narrator in this story marries Jesse because she loved him, she, at the end of the story, reflects that her marriage will end up just like the other marriages in the story:

He still loves me. Our love keeps on. Like my parents' love, it wil subside someday, but nothing surprises me because I have learned everything.

This story presents marriage as a restricting force and the death of romantic love, therefore profoundly challenging the understanding and role of marriage.

In "Where are you going, where have you been?", there is a much more instantaneous connection with love and death as Connie is made to believe that she is in "love" with the sinister and terrifying figure of Arnold. Of course, we see that her departure with him will be akin to death. Oates presents us with a vulnerable and impressionable young woman who is able to be manipulated and convinced because of her unformed identity. Her lack of experience of real love makes her believe Arnold's words when he says:

I'll have my arms tight around you so that you won't need to try to get away and I'll show you what love is like, what it does.

There is an element of foreshadowing in this quote, as the image of Arnold's arms wrapped "tight" around Connie indicates the kind of restrictive experience this will be. Love and death are two things that are very closely linked in both of these stories, therefore.

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