While other, less accomplished writers use violence to shock or provoke, Joyce Carol Oates is usually more subtle and inventive. Such is the case in “Naked,” the story of a forty-six year old woman whose placid outer identity is ripped away by a brutal assault while out hiking not far from her fashionable, University Heights neighborhood. Like many of Oates’ stories—and in this regard she probably owes something to Flannery O’Connor—”Naked” focuses on a woman so entrenched in her rigid self-image that nothing short of violence could make her vulnerable to a humbling, though redemptive, self knowledge.
The protagonist, a stolid, college administrator, prides herself on her liberal views and anti-racist, fair mindedness. Curiously, she remains unnamed throughout the story, though not without reason. Her namelessness brings us closer to her inner world while at the same time obliquely suggesting that, given these same violent circumstances, she could be anyone, even you or me.
Names represent a kind of social identity, and Oates’ main interest here is in exploring what might happen when her character’s social framework and the comfortably predictable life that goes with it are suddenly, and irrevocably, taken away. This, of course, is precisely what happens. What then, Oates seems to be asking, would be left? The answer, which is feverishly detailed in the remaining thirteen pages of this sixteen page story, is something this woman would never have asked for nor anticipated.
Like most people in her social sphere, the woman takes for granted the civility and restraints that have kept her, prior to her attack, comfortably exempt from the personal chaos that violence unleashes. All of…
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…the story concludes with the woman “crouched,” still naked, “in the underbrush” below her house and marveling how strange it is to be seeing her husband at last after “having wanted so desperately to get home,” and yet now feeling “no emotion” at what she saw. (138)
Hillman, James. Eranos Lectures 8, “On Paranoia,” by Hillman. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1986.
Oates, Joyce Carol. “Naked.” Heat and Other Stories. By Oates. New York: Plume, 1991.
Robinson, Sally “Heat and Cold: Recent Fiction by Joyce Carol Oates,” Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. XXXI, 1992.
1. Robinson, Sally. “Heat and Cold: Recent Fiction by Joyce Carol Oates.” Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. XXXI, 1992. In Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 108. 383.
2. Hillman, James. Eranos Lectures 8, “On Paranoia.” Spring Publications, 1986. 13-14.
Plath – A Rebuttal of the Feminist Label
Plath – A Rebuttal of the “Feminist” Label
Sylvia Plath has long been hailed as a feminist writer of great significance. In her 1976 book Literary Women, Ellen Moers writes, “No writer has meant more to the current feminist movement” (qtd. in Wagner 5), and still today, at a time when the idea of equality for women isn’t so radically revolutionary as it had been earlier in the century, Plath is a literary symbol of the women’s rights movement. Roberta Mazzenti quotes Robert A. Piazza as writing that there is “little feminist consciousness” in Plath’s work, and goes on to explain that because “Plath’s work [is] being read… by readers searching for political sustenance”, feminist sentiment that the author never held can easily be attributed to her writing (201). This kind of misguided attribution is illustrated in the opinions of critics like Sheryl Meyering, who states that Sylvia Plath’s intense desire to be accepted by men and to eventually marry and have children was purely a product of the constrictive 1950s social mentality during which the author came to womanhood (xi). A thorough examination of the Plath oeuvre paints a different picture, however. Although Plath’s awareness of and distaste for the submissive and insubstantial role a woman in the 1950s was expected to play is apparent from her early journals to the poems completed in the last month of her life, that same body of work also makes plain that she had accepted some of that role for herself on her own terms: a common theme throughout the writing is the author’s intense desire to be a beloved and loving wife and, perhaps even more strong, her desire to become a mother–as long as she could still speak from within her “deeper self” through her writing.
In 1953, at age 20, Plath wrote in her journal:
I must find a strong potential powerful mate who can counter my vibrant dynamic self: sexual and intellectual, and while comradely, I must admire him: respect and admiration must equate with the object of my love (that is where the remnants of paternal, godlike qualities come in). (Journals, 73)
Here, the reader finds no hint of misandrist resistance to the idea of a strong attachment to a mate. Indeed, it seems obvious that Plath was searching for an equal to accompany her through all the aspects of a multifaceted life.