What Is the Connection Between Men and Women? Themes

Joyce Carol Oates

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The very form of “What Is the Connection Between Men and Women?” is the most important aspect of its meaning. A distance establishes itself between question and response. This distance can be translated into male/female, outside/inside, sane/insane—any number of dichotomies that reflect the basic paradigm of cage/prisoner.

However, this paradigm does not invite the reader to share a simplistic moral judgment—that women are innocent victims of thoughtless male imprisonment. To a certain extent, Sharon has created her own prison. She has translated the death of her husband into the death of her sexual desires. She feels unfaithful to him because she is attracted to another man; the fact that her husband is dead means nothing, for she is “permanently” married to him—and he is “permanently” dead.

The questions asked about Sharon vary in intensity from “How does it feel to lie awake all night?” to “What does a woman feel while a man makes love to her?” At times the female answers are completely disjointed from the male questions. For example, in answer to the second question above, one reads, “Barefoot, she is standing at the door” or “She walked quickly home, threading her way around people.” All but one of the questions are asked more than once—at times with serial insistence, at other times intermittently, as if the questioner is returning to a topic with renewed hope. The very disjunction between...

(The entire section is 601 words.)