Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Oates caused a stir when she submitted a novel under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith to Simon and Schuster. She has said that she was not trying to deceive, but that she wanted to find a new identity as a writer to see if that identity might generate a new voice. To date, she has published four novels under the pseudonym, a play on her husband's name, Raymond Smith: Lives of the Twins (1987), Soul/Mate (1989), Nemesis (1990), and Snake Eyes (1992).

Reflective of her choice of pseudonym, all of the novels pursue the theme of double identity. All portray a murderer whose charismatic exterior masks his psychopathic self. Centering on the most disturbing dimensions of madness, which cannot be traced solely to sociological origins, Oates suggests that the forces that compel the psychopath to kill involve dimensions of brain functioning that lie outside cognition. But the double identity of these charismatic madmen represents more than the split between the public and the private persona. Such a split also can occur as part of the creative process when the creator has no control over the unconscious forces that initiate the process.

Oates draws the connection between the psychopathic impulse and the artistic by making the murderer in Snake Eyes a released convict who is placed in an art therapy program and who is most proud of the snake tattoo he designed out of a "fever dream" he had in a Vietnam jungle. By...

(The entire section is 293 words.)