(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Heat” tells the story of the murder of eleven-year-old identical twins, Rhea and Rhoda Kunkel, through the eyes of a childhood friend who is now an adult. Joyce Carol Oates weaves the story together like bursts of heat on a sultry day. The story begins with a reference to the “rippling” heat of the summer day as the girls ride their bicycles toward Whipple’s Ice.

In the next scene, the twins are in matching white caskets in a funeral parlor. Again, reference is made to the heat. In a narrative that boarders on stream of consciousness, Oates introduces the girls, the narrator, and Roger Whipple. The child narrator describes the girls as inseparable, full of life, and drawing energy and power from each other. She describes their lives and their death with the innocence of a child’s perceptions as she relates her experiences with the twins, who were lively and nice but would steal from their own grandmother.

The twins were active and freckle-faced with bright red hair; then they were dead. The narrator questions whether their death is related to their stealing. She philosophizes about fate and God and relates her image of what the murder must have been like, with an eleven-year-old’s perspective. She was not there, but she knows what happened in Roger Whipple’s upstairs room. Even as an adult, she continues to be haunted by the murder; the violence has become a part of her being. The narrator is a victim as well.

The twins are seen as one girl. They go everywhere together; they seem to function as a unit. They seem to know instinctively that one must have the other as a source of strength or both will die. Always known as “Rhea-and-Rhoda,” they seem to have...

(The entire section is 704 words.)