What are the emotional dynamics between Allen and Sister Irene in  the short story, "In the Region of Ice?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oates depiction of the emotional entanglements between Sister Irene and Allen form the basis of the short story.  It is not an accident that the "ice" in the title refers to emotional domain of Sister Irene.  She barricades herself in an emotional ice palace.  Oates points out that this is a part of the world in which she chooses to live.  The academic world of intellectualism, the traditional teacher vs. student paradigm, and the world of the sisterhood all create realms that allow Irene to keep emotions frozen.  These domains permit Irene to live in a carefully designed and calibrated world in which the messiness of emotions are not present.  Oates presents emotions as something that destabilizes Sister Irene, and rather than confront them and seek to better understand her place within such realities, Sister Irene is able to keep them at a distance.  Sister Irene is shown to be a character who fails to embrace the complexities of emotions, and rather hurriedly reverts back to her world of design and ice in order to maintain order and control of both her world and herself.  Allen's presence threatens to destabilize this, but when he is gone, her emotional frigidity is protected.