In the Region of Ice

by Joyce Carol Oates

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How does the tone/mood of "In the Region of Ice" reveal the character's social struggle?

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This short story, very much like "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?", another classic example of this genre by Oates, narrates the impact of a male interloper into a female's world. The mood of this story is dominated by the frigid, reclusive world of Sister Irene who is unable to connect with any other human being in a meaningful way, in spite of her desire to do so. Even Weinstein, the male who she admits she would like to form a relationship with, is not able to break her out of the "region of ice" which is her permanent abode. Note how she reflects on her fate at the end of the story, having heard about Weinstein's suicide:

She could make only one choice. What she had done or hadn't done was the result of that choice, and how was she guilty? If she could have felt guilt, she thought, she might at least have been able to feel something.

That the story ends with "the autumn drizzle turning into snow" cements the icy, cold and detached mood that dominates as Oates skillfully reveals to the reader a woman who is so far removed from emotions and connections with others that she is unable to feel any emotional response whatsoever at the news that a man she loved has committed suicide. This is the social struggle that Sister Irene faces, and Oates uses this struggle to explore the conflict between the desires of the mind and the limits of human will.

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