In the epilogue of the novel, which takes place in 1989, Maddy describes one of her infrequent returns to Hammond, from a quiet life in New Mexico, when she runs into Rita O’Hagan, now married. They reminisce about Legs, and Rita shows Maddy a newspaper photograph from 1961 of Legs—with Fidel Castro. What has actually happened to the charismatic leader, however, will stay a mystery. What remains is the devotion that the other girls still have for the legendary Legs, a love which also has a certain teenage homosexual tension to it. The confessions that Maddy is transcribing here from the old notebooks are her own gift to Legs, her adolescent, larger-than-life heroine who briefly created a “true blood-sisterhood” among these homeless girls.
Foxfire is thus a novel about the 1950’s from the unique perspective of a member of a gang of girls. The narrative, broken into five parts, slips easily from the first person into the third person and back, as Maddy describes her own feelings at the same time that she is chronicling the exploits of this gang and even gets into the head of Legs in prison. There is a rushed quality to the prose which captures perfectly this adolescent 1950’s world. Like so much of the fiction of Joyce Carol Oates, readers are carried into a historical moment and into the minds of younger people experiencing it. As Maddy writes, “it was a time of violence against girls and women but we didn’t have the language to talk about it then.” Foxfire the novel is about the discovery of that language, as FOXFIRE the gang is about the revenge for the violence:It’s true as I stated at the outset of these Confessions, FOXFIRE was an outlaw gang, and became even more so as time passed. And we were pledged not to feel remorse—FOXFIRE NEVER LOOKS BACK!
Yet, as in so many of Oates’s novels, less is more, and what appears as sensational popular romance on the surface is deeply serious fiction just beneath. Legs has befriended an old, alcoholic priest named Father Theriault before the novel begins, and he gives the gang a semi-Marxist analysis of the class structure of history. Their initiation ceremony mixes this language of the “Revolution of the Proletariat” with biblical terminology—“Valley of the Shadow of Death.” In addition, one of their first acts is a protest against a pet store that is mistreating its animals and from which they rescue Toby, their loyal husky.
The enemy is not only men but the institutionalized ideology of the 1950’s as well. The authorities assume that FOXFIRE is the auxiliary of some male gang, but male gangs such as the Viscounts are themselves threatened by FOXFIRE. The 1950’s ideology is not only sexist; at the celebration party for her release, the gang shuns the two black girls Legs has invited. FOXFIRE the gang is unfortunately a part of the very ideological structure that it is trying to fight. What happens to the gang is proof of how their violence turns against them. Throughout much of their brief career, Legs is donating the money that they get from men to needy women and old people in Hammond, but by the end of the novel, the not-so-merry young women of this Robin Hood gang have come to resemble their male victims and are as guilty of the crimes of violence as the men upon whom they visit their reprisals.