Marya: A Life Themes
by Joyce Carol Oates

Start Your Free Trial

Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Download Marya: A Life Study Guide

Subscribe Now

One of Oates's most autobiographical novels, Marya traces the journey of the child Marya from her origins in the poor communities of Innisfail and Shaheen Falls in upstate New York to a successful academic career, and a career as translator at the international level, and finally, back home as she decides to search for the alcoholic mother who abandoned her to a paternal aunt and uncle after her father was murdered. The structure enables Oates to address issues that have concerned her in much of her fiction: the defenselessness of a child, particularly a female child; the conformity and rebellion of the adolescent and the violence of adolescent behavior; the place of the brilliant, sensitive person in an ordinary world; the struggle with religious faith; and the politics of the academic world. While Marya pulls together many of Oates's themes, it also reflects a new attention to issues of feminism that she began to address in Solstice (1985). Oates uses that novel's vision of women locked in a relationship based on a power struggle in her portrait of Marya and her college friend Imogene. But where Solstice ended on the cyclical nature of the power struggle, Marya ends on the need for women to accept their origins by coming to terms with their relationship — or lack of relationship — with their mothers.

Oates's refusal to ignore the violent nature of society continues in Marya. The novel opens with the violent murder of Marya's father and places Marya in a number of personally violent encounters, most notably a near-rape where her hair, the symbol of her womanhood, is cut off by a group of drunken peers. The motif of violence culminates in an international conference on torture that Marya attends, the emphasis here suggesting not just the global nature of violence but also how much it is linked to sexual abuse of women.

Despite the emphasis on violence, Marya , like most of Oates's novels, is not nihilistic. Its belief in the value of life connects to Oates's feminist perspective, which...

(The entire section is 502 words.)