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What is the theme of "Shopping" by Joyce Carol Oates?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The theme of the story is the mixture of pain and love in the intergenerational conflict between mothers and daughters—and the difficulty, further, of truly knowing another person.

The story is told from the point of view of Mrs. Dietrich, who is taking her seventeen-year-old daughter, Nola, shopping. They are a well-heeled twosome, despite Mrs. Dietrich being divorced, and they can spend without thinking about it in an upscale mall with stores like Neiman Marcus. Nevertheless, the two can't seem to connect.

While we don't get to experience Nola's interiority, we can sense how she is pulling away from her mother, trying to grow up and become her own person. For example, she smokes a cigarette at lunch at the Creperie, openly differentiating from her mother, who has recently quit. She wants to go far away, to study in France, while her mother wants to keep her close.

Mrs. Dietrich does not understand her daughter, experiences anger at her daughter's opacity, and feels time passing by in...

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Carrie Dixon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"Shopping" highlights relationships between mother and daughter, and demonstrates how such relationships may be deeply strained, even when the mother and daughter are on a shopping excursion at the mall—a characteristically American activity. Reading the story is both interesting to both sexes. Women will be naturally interested in the two women, and the men are not so far away from family life that they will not also be interested in the alienation that the story illustrates. This story by Joyce Carol Oates highlights the unique bonds that a parent-child relationship contains, and though similar to other works of literature, this contemporary setting modernizes the ages old problems in dealing with children from a parent's perspective.