Upon the Sweeping Flood

by Joyce Carol Oates

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 348

In Eden County, a sheriff’s deputy stops Walter Stuart, warns him about a hurricane that is developing, and continues on down the road. Stuart is in a hurry to get home to his wife and two daughters, having spent a week at his father’s farm, making arrangements for his father’s funeral. Stuart is a district vice president of a gypsum mining plant, a thirty-nine-year-old man who has achieved, quite naturally, success in both finance and love.

A girl of about eighteen and a boy of about thirteen jump into the road by their farmhouse and try to stop another car going back to town. It passes them, and Stuart offers to give them a ride to safety. The car gets mired in mud, however, and the boy sees that his frightened horse has gotten loose. Although the girl frantically protests and slaps at her brother, Stuart tries to help the boy round up the horse, but it gets away. Unable to flee the storm, they take refuge in the kitchen of the farmhouse, pushing furniture up against the door. The girl and the boy scream at each other and at Stuart, inexplicably angry at each other. When the water seeps up through the floorboards, they climb into the attic.

When the windows downstairs explode, Stuart makes a hole in the roof with an ax, and they climb out onto the roof and hold on as the wind and the rain assail them. Then the house collapses, and they float free on the roof. They cling to it, huddled together in the dark, terrified. The boy has “gone loony.”

The dawn reveals a small hill and some trees, and they wade toward it. Stuart stirs up some snakes. In a frenzy, he and the boy try to kill them. For no reason, Stuart suddenly starts hitting the boy with a stick. Then he confronts the girl, who prepares to defend herself with a board. As Stuart lunges at her, she points toward a rescue boat. Wading out to meet it, Stuart cries, “Save me! Save me!”

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