Joyce Carol Oates Questions and Answers

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In "Journey" by Joyce Carol Oates, what is the destination?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think that this question becomes the central issue in the work.  For Oates, it seems to her articulation of the journey is one in which the protagonist is moving through it with a specific destination or end point in mind.  Yet, in this recollection is a forgetfulness of the present, of the moment, in pursuit of a directed end.  Oates speaks to this:

At the speed at which you move it is virtually impossible to discern the shapes of objects.   They have become nameless, indefinable, a continuous stream.   And the sun flying overhead, and the moon.   Horizon to horizon.   You are intoxicated with speed, your lungs expanding in joy.   You wonder whether, passing as you are, swift and fleeting as a shadow on the barren earth, you are, in any true sense of the word, here at all.

It is this particular condition of speed in which one becomes driven with the journey to a natural end. The reality becomes, though, that the directed journey, one towards a specific end, tends to forget the experience of the voyage.  Oates points this out with a particular condition of melancholy, if only for an instant:

The journey, only just begun, is suddenly ending—it has ended.

Rolled up swiftly and efficiently behind you even as you sped through it, like a carpet, or a gigantic sheet of paper.

There is no particular destination in this journey.  Only the notation that it has ended.  In this, the journey is life, consciousness, itself.  There is no particular destination, suggesting that meaning and relevance have to be found in the voyage itself.  Through the condition of hurdling speed and intense rapidity, one has to find meaning for the end point is one in which the only meaning is that what was undertaken has ended.

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