Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story raises the everyday questions of life to new heights. Oates uses minimalistic descriptions of the girls and the events in the story and leaves it to the reader to fill in the gaps. She parallels the themes of the twins, life, death, and fate in a way that resembles snapshots of life. First, the girls are portrayed as happy and alive on their rusted bicycles, which are often placed side by side in the same direction on the ground. Death is foreshadowed, and soon the freckle-faced imperfect twins are together again, porcelain perfect faces, still and lifeless in their perfectly pure white coffins, side by side in the funeral parlor.

Oates writes with a biting clarity that rips at the soul, and yet she does so with images that are purely poetic. The oppressive heat of the day serves as a metaphor for the sexual tension in the story. The scene with the ice chunks, in which the girls tease Roger, foreshadows a kind of formidable foreplay, leading to their demise. They played, unaware of death lurking in the upstairs room. Her language is at once gritty and as searing as the heat referenced in the title and at the same time alliterative and engaging. Her choice of narrative voice moves the story along. The first-person child narrator describes her experiences with Rhea and Rhoda. The omniscient narrator tells the horrors of the murder and delves into the thoughts of the girls and Roger. The adult narrator reflects on her memories with the innocence of childhood recalled but with the clear vision of a grown woman who has been victimized by her past and is still held captive in some ways by the violence that claimed her friends, even as she seeks to reclaim her place in the world.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bender, Eileen Teper. Joyce Carol Oates: Artist in Residence. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Cologne-Brookes, Gavin. Dark Eyes on America: The Novels of Joyce Carol Oates. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005.

Creighton, Joanne V. Joyce Carol Oates: Novels of the Middle Years. New York: Twayne, 1992.

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Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed. Critical Essays on Joyce Carol Oates. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979.