Style and Technique
“My Warszawa” is a disturbing story, made more so by the apparent objectivity of Oates’s narrative voice. The cold, highly analytic style, though an accurate projection of the destructive power of Judith Horne’s intelligence, seems more typical of a Doris Lessing case study than the flamboyant, image-and symbol-laden fiction for which Oates has become famous. The reader understands and shares in Judith’s mixed emotions about herself and Poland but is given little evidence of whether the author sympathizes with her protagonist’s plight. The overall tone of ironic understatement may further alienate the reader, who finds him-or herself in the position of Judith’s lover, wanting to like her but prevented from doing so by Judith’s own self-hatred.
Even the character of Robert Sargent, whose experience in Poland seems a comic restatement of Judith’s, offers little relief from Oates’s cold objectivity. He, too, suffers from feelings of alienation and paranoia because of an insecure sexual identity and fears humiliation at the hands of his homosexual lover. He complains that his “toenails are growing wildly” with “wicked, razor-sharp” corners, just as Judith worries about the “tiny worms of dirt that roll beneath her fingertips.” The difference is that Judith understands and fights against what Poland has done to her, while Robert appears to be the bumbling, naïve butt of a world that is beyond his comprehension. Judith’s...
(The entire section is 449 words.)