Joyce Carol Oates Analysis

Discussion Topics

Identify the Gothic elements in the fiction of Joyce Carol Oates.

Oates has been accused of excessive violence in her novels and stories. What purpose does it serve in her fiction?

How does point of view operate in an Oates novel or short story? Is it consistent? Does it shift among different characters?

What does Oates say about contemporary American society? What are its preoccupations, its limitations?

How does the American family thrive in Oates? What are its strengths, and what are its problems?

Do Oates’s protagonists come to some understanding of their identity by the end of the work?

Other Literary Forms

Joyce Carol Oates is remarkable for the volume and breadth of her literary output. In addition to hundreds of short stories published in collections and various literary journals and popular magazines, Oates produced several volumes of poetry, plays, numerous novels, and edited texts. Furthermore, through interviews, essays, editorship of anthologies and journals, and positions at the University of Windsor and then Princeton University, she engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the North American literary community.


Joyce Carol Oates received National Book Award nominations in 1968 and 1969; she won the award in 1970, for her novel them (1969). Other honors include O. Henry Awards in 1967, 1973, and 1983 for her short stories, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and Rosenthal Fellowships, and election to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She won the Heidemann Award for one-act plays and the Rea Award, both in 1990. Oates was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize for Black Water (1992), and she was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. She was a Pulitzer finalist again in 1995. In 1996 she won the Bram Stoker Award for Horror and the Fisk Fiction Prize for Zombie (1995).

Other literary forms

Joyce Carol Oates’s first work for the stage, Miracle Play, appeared in 1974, and others opened later to appreciative audiences. In addition, Oates has published collections of short stories with regularity. These began with By the North Gate (1963), which predated her first novel, and continued with collections such as Upon the Sweeping Flood (1966), The Wheel of Love (1970), Marriages and Infidelities (1972), Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (1974), The Poisoned Kiss (1975), The Seduction (1975), Crossing the Border (1976), All the Good People I’ve Left Behind (1978), A Sentimental Education (1980), Raven’s Wing (1986), The Assignation (1988), Where Is Here? (1992), Faithless: Tales of Transgression (2001), The Female of the Species: Tales of Mystery and Suspense (2006), and Wild Nights! Stories About the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway (2008). In the early years of the twenty-first century, Oates added literature for children and young adults to her repertoire. These works include Big Mouth and Ugly Girl (2002), Freaky Green Eyes (2003), After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away (2006), and Naughty Chérie (2008).

While Oates is often recognized as one of the primary American writers of imaginative literature, she also is a highly respected reviewer and critic. Some of Oates’s best literary criticism and writing about her work has been collected in such volumes as New Heaven, New Earth: The Visionary Experience in Literature (1974); (Woman) Writer: Occasions and Opportunities (1988), Where I’ve Been, and Where I’m Going: Essays, Reviews, and Prose (1999), and The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art (2003). In addition, Oates has edited several anthologies of the short fiction and nonfiction of other authors, including Night Walks: A Bedside Companion (1982), First Person Singular: Writers on Their Craft(1983), American Gothic Tales (1996), Snapshots: Twentieth Century Mother-Daughter Fiction (2000; with Janet Berliner), and The Best American Mystery Stories (2005; with Otto Penzler). Oates’s books of poems include Anonymous Sins, and Other Poems (1969), Angel Fire (1973), Women Whose Lives Are Food, Men Whose Lives Are Money (1978), The Time Traveler (1989), and Tenderness (1996). In 1974, Oates and her husband founded the literary journal Ontario Review.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

As a writer and as a teacher, Joyce Carol Oates has collected numerous and varied prizes and honors. Among them are O. Henry Awards throughout the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s, twelve Pushcart Prizes, the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1968), the National Book Award for 1970, and the Lotos Club Award of Merit (1975). In 1990, Oates received the Rea Award for the short story and the Alan Swallow Award for her 1988 short-story collection The Assignation. Oates has also been honored with the PEN/Malamud Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Short Story (1996), the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Literature (1998), the Thomas Cooper Medal for Distinction in the Arts and Sciences (2005), the Humanist of the Year Award (2007), and the Mary McCarthy Award (2008). She has also been the recipient of eight honorary degrees.

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Joyce Carol Oates is best known as the author of many novels, including them (1969), which won her the 1970 National Book Award. She is also a respected short-story writer, a playwright, and the author of numerous critical articles.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Many of Joyce Carol Oates’s short stories have been honored by inclusion in The Best American Short Stories and the O. Henry Awards Anthology; she won a National Book Award for the novel them. In addition, Oates is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has received both a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Humanities grant.

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bastian, Katherine. Joyce Carol Oates’s Short Stories: Between Tradition and Innovation. Frankfurt: Verlag Peter Lang, 1983. Bastian surveys the Oatesian short story, providing occasional insights into theme and character. The focus is to place Oates in the tradition of the genre and find her links with its other masters.

Cologne-Brookes, Gavin. Dark Eyes on America: The Novels of Joyce Carol Oates. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005. An analysis of selected, significant works wherein Cologne-Brookes attempts to expose Joyce Carol Oates’ philosophical and cultural worldviews. Valuable addition to Oates’...

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