Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Oates has shown herself to be one of the most versatile stylists of twentieth century fiction. From Joycean short stories with powerful epiphanies, to academic satires, to mock translations, to epistolary experiments, to southern gothics, Oates has succeeded brilliantly in almost every style devised for the short story. For “In the Region of Ice,” she has chosen a straightforward third-person central-consciousness narration. This is a modern story told in the traditional style of psychological realism.

It is a story, however, that is greatly enriched by Shakespearean allusions. All three Shakespearean plays mentioned in the text have the same basic theme as “In the Region of Ice”: the terrible risks involved in human relationships. The allusion to Romeo and Juliet (c. 1596-1597) illuminates an erotic subtext to the interaction between Sister Irene and Allen Weinstein. It also suggests that such connections between men and women may have precisely the tragic outcomes that Sister Irene so vividly fears. Measure for Measure, only nominally a comedy, is also fraught with the dangers of human interaction: Claudio is condemned to die for his intimacy with his fiancé Juliet. Angelo’s lust for Isabella makes her life a misery and a hopeless conundrum, and even the duke himself fails everyone by not being capable of judging and ruling his subjects. It is Claudio’s pathetic consideration of suicide that Allen calls to Sister Irene’s attention in his allusive letter from the hospital. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1600-1601), whose human relationships are nothing if not problematic, is also mentioned briefly. Hamlet’s famous indecisiveness is a good reflection of Sister Irene’s inability to act, in spite of tremendous emotional and perhaps moral provocation.