What is Joyce Carol Oates's short story "...& Answers" about?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Joyce Carol Oates's short story "...& Answers" is told in the form of answers a mental-health patient gives to questions posed by psychologist. The central theme in the story concerns the repressed fear of being abandoned by her father the protagonist and narrator has felt all her life.

The protagonist has just gone to see a psychologist because she is struggling with her grief over the death of her daughter. As she talks, repressed emotions about her father surface. She claims that, while he was alive, she had felt he was like a stranger, yet when he disappears from her life forever, she lastingly suffers from fears of abandonment. Her father had lied to his family by saying he was leaving for a fishing trip; the truth was, he was leaving to be hospitalized for an operation. Sadly, he dies during the operation, and his family members do not get the chance to say goodbye. Instead, they are left feeling hurt because he lied to them and feeling abandoned.

As the story progresses, we learn that the protagonist projects her feelings of distrust and abandonment onto all men. We also learn she is having difficulty recovering from her grief over the loss of her daughter because is projecting the loss of her father onto the loss of her daughter, reliving her father's death all over again. Hence, all in all, the short story is an analysis of human psychology and the detrimental effects of both emotional pain and repressed emotions.

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