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Mother and Daughter Relationship Exposed in Joyce Carol Oates Short Story, Shopping

Mother and Daughter Relationship Exposed in Joyce Carol Oates’ Short Story, Shopping

The relationship between a mother and a daughter is one of complications, heartaches, and sweet rewards. This is no exception between Nola and Mrs. Dietrich, characters in “Shopping” by Joyce Carol Oates. The tribulations of their relationship are shown during their annual shopping trip. In the time spent together, Nola is obviously trying to break free from her mother and become her own woman. This coming-of-age path is expressed by her “private thoughts” and “answers in monosyllables” (Oates 834). As Nola desperately tries to acquire her own self, her Mrs. Dietrich desperately tries to hang onto the child in Nola. She tries to stay in her daughter’s life by wanting to know “why are you so quiet” and “what are you thinking?” (Oates 834). In Oates short story, she develops Mrs. Dietrich’s and Nola’s relationship by showing the conflicting needs of mothers and daughters.

The shopping trip allows Mrs. Dietrich to try to penetrate her daughter’s new adult life and surface the child. She is also simple trying to be a part of her daughter’s life. As a divorced woman, Mrs. Dietrich finds Nola as her only source of love-her outlet to give and to receive love. Mrs. Dietrich even finds herself thinking “she is in love with her daughter” (Oates 834). These strong emotions are most likely why Mrs. Dietrich needs Nola to such an extent. Mrs. Dietrich wants to feel needed; she wants to be a mother. The betrayal of Mr. Dietrich causes Mrs. Dietrich to cling even more. However, she finds that Nola no longer needs her. Nola is becoming an adult. Mrs. Dietrich’s memories of Nola as a child are now replaced with the images of her dau…

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…ong in her actions and her words. At the end Nola loses strength and becomes weak.

Joyce Carol Oates short story “Shopping” gives an excellent example of the trials a mother and daughter experiences. She shows that each a mother and daughter can have wants and needs in the relationship. These things can only be understood if the two communicate to each other. The story also presents the problem of how a mother wants her little girl, while the daughter wants to

be a young woman. Most importantly Oates shows the human tendency to be independent at times and at others dependent. Each character won and lost a battle, expressing the human complexity of sometimes being able to be strong but then at other times weak. This shows that in a mother and daughter relationship each is needed for the other person because each person needs someone to be strong.

Clothing and Gender in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

Clothing and Gender in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

In her novel Orlando, Virginia Woolf tells the story of a man who one night mysteriously becomes a woman. By shrouding Orlando’s actual gender change in a mysterious religious rite, we readers are pressured to not question the actual mechanics of the change but rather to focus on its consequences. In doing this, we are invited to answer one of the fundamental questions of our lives, a question that we so often ignore because it seems so very basic – what is a man? What is a woman? And how do we distinguish between the two?

It seems that in ordinary life, we are most likely to distinguish between a man and a woman by clothing. This is more difficult to do in the present day, in which women have adapted much traditionally male clothing for their own use, but in the time periods in which Orlando is set it was still the case that men and women wore distinct clothing. If we consider our everyday experience, it becomes clear that this is the means we use, at least from a distance. Other cues such as hairstyle, quality of voice, and so on enter the equation later, but clothing comes first. A man with long hair is eccentric at worst; a man wearing a dress runs the risk of being beaten to a pulp for this transgression. People wishing to undergo a sex-change operation must undergo a period of living as the opposite gender before going through with surgery – the first and most important thing invariably done here is to purchase a new wardrobe.

So, if clothes are the cues that we use to differentiate the two genders, then it is no surprise that Orlando’s sex change takes place when it does. In the opening paragraph of Chapter Four, upon Orlando’s departure from Turkey, Woolf writes…

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…ch woman when in fact it is not very clear what she is. Woolf posits that her choice of clothing points to something deeper: “Clothes are but a symbol of something deep beneath. It was a change in Orlando herself that dictated her choice of a woman’s dress and of a woman’s sex” (188). If only it were possible for us to change our genders and all the social baggage that comes with them merely by changing our clothing? But Orlando’s life is in some ways magical, and this makes it possible.

Works Cited and Consulted

Boehm, Beth A. “Fact, Fiction, and Metafiction: Blurred Gen(d)res in Orlando and A Room of One’s Own.” Journal of Narrative Technique 22:3 (1992): 191-204.

Thompson, Nicola. “Some Theories of One’s Own: Orlando and the Novel.” Studies in the Novel 25:3 (1993): 306-17.

Woolf, Virginia. Orlando: A Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

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