Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title of the story reflects its form. Oates subverts the reader’s expectations: namely, that Katherine is the only character “waiting.” Everyone around Katherine has been waiting: The mother waits for her daughter’s success; the fiancé waits for his lover’s acceptance; the welfare “candidates” wait for the social worker’s attention; Mr. Mott waits for revenge.

Oates uses this important verb twice in the final paragraphs of the story. Mr. Mott reveals: “For six years I been waiting to run into one of you—” After Mr. Mott has beaten Katherine, the narrator states very simply that “she waited.” He has been waiting to vent his rage; she has been waiting to weep. The reader has also been waiting: The title of the story works as a kind of riddle, solved in the story’s conclusion. Through shifts in the narrative focus, Mr. Mott remains a peripheral concern to the story. He seems an annoyance, a diversion from the main story line; yet in the final scene he overwhelms Katherine and the reader with a ruthless reality that has been lurking in the background for pages.