The Assassins: A Book of Hours by Joyce Carol Oates

Start Your Free Trial

Download The Assassins: A Book of Hours Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Andrew Petrie, a character viewed in retrospect, was a charismatic overachiever whose personality and political philosophy inspired both awe and hatred. His image dominates the imaginations of the other three characters, the brothers Hugh and Stephen, and the widow Yvonne, all of whom are suffering from different forms of madness. Hugh is the most nervously active of the three, and literally drives himself mad by contemplating the social and moral implications of Andrew's death. Yvonne, obsessed with the personality of her late husband, sleeps in his study and plans to edit his papers for publication; she commits a kind of suttee, longing for a death that she accepts (if in fact it takes place) with a maddening and chilling calmness. Stephen, who is insane at the beginning of the novel, has achieved a kind of emotional stasis by appealing to religion for solace from the terror of life; in the end, he achieves a sanity of sorts only by rejecting, almost intuitively, all of his principles, as in the last chilling sentence of the novel: "I can accommodate myself to anything." However, Oates presents the obsessions of the characters so graphically and so relentlessly that they become almost unbelievable; even if no assassination had taken place, one feels that an obsessive longing for death (of either the spirit or the body) would have overwhelmed Yvonne, Hugh, and Stephen eventually.