Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Although stylistically reminiscent of much of Joyce Carol Oates’s earlier work, Do with Me What You Will is the first novel in which the protagonist, as victim, walks away from her bondage and moves toward self-realization and full identity. When the work was published, it was considered the most affirmative of Oates’s novels because it depicts a female character who is awakened and strengthened through the power of redemptive love.

The novel deals with the profession of law and the search for human rights, and the law provides the framework through which the characters seek identification. It is clearly stated, however, that the law cannot absolutely determine guilt or innocence, sanity or insanity, justice or injustice, because the system deals with “fictional” characters created by attorneys interested in conviction or acquittal. Thus the law in the novel comes to symbolize the manipulation and bondage that are the foundation of the protagonist, Elena Howe. In the final outcome, then, it is love, not law, that becomes the vehicle of liberation for her and for the story. Because the courtroom is an integral part of the tale, the book is arranged in four parts that loosely correspond to a trial.

Part 1, “Twenty-eight Years, Two Months, Twenty-six Days,” focuses strictly on Elena. It traces her story from the point at which she is kidnapped and traumatized by her estranged father, through her return to her self-involved...

(The entire section is 583 words.)