Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

You Must Remember This preserves lower-class American life as it existed in the United States in the 1950’s. Oates describes vividly and in detail the New York State setting of her childhood. The author writes that, in her mind, she traverses Port Oriskany’s streets and ponders its buildings, houses, vacant lots, and, most of all, the canal that runs through it as it did through her birthplace, Lockport, New York. The canal, in Enid’s fevered imagination, as in Oates’s own, seems an object of utter beauty.

The novel is perhaps the most personal of the author’s novels. Oates once wrote that the contours of Enid Stevick’s soul very much resemble her own. The novel is also the history of an era the author loved. It focuses on certain selected aspects of American life, most notably politics (the antipodes of the Red Scare and the early pioneering antinuclear arms movement represented by Warren Stevick). In addition to politics, Oates evokes remembrances of popular culture in the 1950’s, primarily music and Hollywood films. She includes the names of popular songs with suggestive and evocative titles such as “Stormy Weather” and “These Foolish Things.” She mentions the names of film and television stars. She identifies the cars people drove (Felix is always driving a shiny new car) and remembers the professional prizefighting that vast numbers of Americans watched weekly on television and the great champions who were in their...

(The entire section is 501 words.)