How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Correction and Began My Life Over Again

by Joyce Carol Oates
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In "How I Contemplated the World," what is Oates saying about the upper middle class suburban life?

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This question can be answered by carefully considering the description of the protagonist of her life with her parents and the kind of standard of living they enjoyed in their home on Sioux Drive. It is clear when we consider the obvious sarcasm of the narrator that she is rebelling against the affluence and isolated world in which she lived. Note the tone of voice as the narrator asks us to "imagine" what life on Sioux Drive is like:

ook at where he lives and look at the enormous trees and chimneys, imagine his many fireplaces, imagine his wife and children, imagine his wife's hair, imagine her fingernails, imagine her bathtub of smooth clean glowing pink, imagine their embraces, his trouser pockets filled with odd coins and keys and dust and peanuts, imagine their ecstasy on Sioux Drive, imagine their income tax returns, imagine their little boy's pride in his experimental car, a scaled down C...., as he roars round the neighbourhood on the sidewalks frightening dogs and Negro maids, oh imagine all these things, imagine everything...

Sioux Drive and the life that its lucky residents enjoy is so isolated and detached from real life that "there is no weather" and the outside world seems like a different world. However, what is clear through the narrator's tone of voice and her sarcasm is that, not only is she rebelling against such conspicuous comfort and pleasure, but that part of that rebellion stems from the way that her parents, although they have provided for her material needs in every way, have not provided for her emotional needs, and the narrator's simple desire to be loved is what is behind her rebellion. Oates therefore seems to be harshly criticising the suburban life enjoyed by so many Americans by focusing on the girl's plight.


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