In "How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Correction," what is the effect of nonchronological progression in the story?
Certainly one of the most striking aspects of this wonderful short story is the fragmented nature of the narrative, which is deliberately missing certain sections. This is achieved through the presentation of the story in the form of the protagonist's own set of notes that she has prepared for an essay based on what has happened to her. The twelve sections of these notes therefore reflect a chaotic and nonlinear narrative of what happened to the girl, and it is only with difficulty that the astute reader is able to piece together what we think happened to her.
However, if we think about it, the impact of such a narrative choice by Oates says a lot about the state of mind of the central character. Let us remember that she is a 16-year-old girl who has been abused and clearly yearns for affection from her parents. The framents we are presented with therefore help us to imagine the way that she, through writing these notes, is trying to piece together the various shards of her life into some sort of united whole, imposing some kind of understanding on the chaos of her existence.
One of the most interesting sections of this story is what comes under the heading "People and Circumstances Contributing to This Delinquency." Underneath this, the girl has written "Nothing." Clearly this indicates not the complete absence of any contributing factors, but that the protagonist is either blind to them or is not able, yet, to discuss them openly. The fragmentary and partial nature of the narrative thus forces us as readers to speculate and consider our own reasons that will help cast light on the behaviour of the girl.