Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 171

The author explains this story from a third-person omniscient point of view. The author reveals the thoughts, emotions, and actions of the main character, Anna, to the reader. As one reads the story, they realize that Anna is unhappy in her current marriage; therefore, she decides to have an affair....

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The author explains this story from a third-person omniscient point of view. The author reveals the thoughts, emotions, and actions of the main character, Anna, to the reader. As one reads the story, they realize that Anna is unhappy in her current marriage; therefore, she decides to have an affair. Her lover is also married, but he cannot leave his wife. Anna ends up feeling lost and suicidal because she knows that the affair cannot be anything more, and she has to go back to her rocky marriage.

In addition, the story is not told in a chronological order; this has the effect of piquing the reader's curiosity and desire to read more and understand the story. The events begin in the future in the first chapter, then they go back again to the past, while still maintaining some elements of the future in the second chapter. Finally, the entire story is retold from the beginning in the final chapter, so that the reader can understand the events in chapter 1 and 2.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

The short story is a third-person narrative but is limited omniscient, meaning that the reader experiences events from Anna’s perspective and is directly aware of only Anna’s emotions and thoughts. This technique underscores Anna’s emotional isolation because her ups and downs suggest manic-depressive behavior, as well as an obsessive desire to find fulfillment in a relationship with a man, all driving her to suicidal thoughts.

The narrative perspective also emphasizes that her marriage and affair have the same effect on Anna. With her husband, she feels like a shadow of a woman, strangely detached from life and lacking boundaries, giving way to suicidal thoughts and an abortive attempt at her own life, revealing how little she relates to her own body. After a particularly disappointing meeting with her lover, she splashes water on her face, first leading briefly to suicidal thoughts of drowning but then shifting to homicidal thoughts about her lover and his family. She feels insignificant. Anna fails to realize that, for her happiness, neither man matters, as is symbolized by both remaining nameless.

The metaphor of water plays a central role. Generally a symbol of the unconscious, water is connected to emotional breakthroughs for Anna. She experiences water as something that drowns her and, therefore, triggers suicidal thoughts. In the final scene, she again has suicidal thoughts but then feels flooded by her joyous realization that her affair is a true marriage. In the context of her mood swings and the previous negative connotations of water, her final vision remains ambiguous, because flooding implies the danger of violent drowning.

The most striking technique that Oates uses in this story is the plot structure. The narration does not simply alternate between past and present, nor is it circular; rather, it is linear in a complex way. The story is told by rewinding to an earlier time and then covering a wider range of events. In this boxlike structure, events narrated in one section are embedded in the following section. As a result, the narrative “boxes in” the crucial moment of choice. When her lover secretly confronts Anna in public, she could break free, for example, risking a scandal; however, she chooses to remain silent and be defined by the two men in her life.

Consequently, Anna can be seen as “boxed in” by the repetitions of her life. The plot’s boxlike structure, then, supports the interpretation of the story’s ending as an emotional high point that is likely to be followed by new low points. Anna appears to be trapped in the repetitions of marriage, adultery, and narrative.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 112

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.

Daly, Brenda O. Lavish Self-Divisions: The Novels of Joyce Carol Oates. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.

Johnson, Greg. Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Dutton, 1998.

Johnson, Greg. Understanding Joyce Carol Oates. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987.

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

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