Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Stuart thinks of himself as normal and gentle. However, interacting with the violent, unfeeling, and crude boy and girl, he finds himself taking on their characteristics. The hurricane and the flood provoke this process, as it aggravates the worst qualities in the girl and her “loony” brother. Joyce Carol Oates shows how something in human nature produces, needs, and thrives on violence, personal and vicarious. Morality and convention, according to Oates, cannot control this urge and may contribute to it. Stuart’s altruism saves them, but he wants to force them to be grateful. The violent intrusions of chance can significantly aggravate a person’s innate inclinations toward violence.

During the course of the story, Stuart is put through a profoundly wrenching experience. He goes from asking the deputy, “Do you need help?” to begging the rescue boat, “Save me!” He goes from declaring, “I know what I’m doing!” to doing something totally uncontrollable. Because the deputy assumes that Stuart is better off than “these folks coming along here” and that he would not care what the hurricane does to them, Stuart believes that he must act on the social obligation to “see if anybody needs help.”

Stuart is isolated from his own people in this remote region of swampland. As “the slashing of rain against” his face excites him and he feels “a strange compulsion” to “laugh madly,” he breaks out of his normal life. The engine of his car and the wind “roared together.” In the farmhouse, he is isolated even from the other people who live in the swampland: In the attic, on the flood-surrounded roof, and finally...

(The entire section is 680 words.)