“Where are you Going, Where have you been?” By Joyce Carol Oates

Subject: Literature
Type: Expository Essay
Pages: 4
Word count: 1165
Topics: American Culture, Art History, Book, Realism
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Realism is a term that is commonly used with reference to the representation of subject matter in their actual value.  When used in literature realism refers to the portrayal of real life. The use of literal realism started emerging in the mid-19th Century and was commonly used by French and Russian writers during this time. Among the first writers to use literal realism was Marie-Henri Beyle, whose pen name was Stendhal and Alexander Pushkin. Alexander Pushkin was Russian while Stendhal was French. William Dean Howells was the first American writer to engage in literal realism. He wrote stories on the lifestyles led by the middle and the upper class. However, there was later the emergence of other writers such as Mark Twain who took the use of realism in the US to another level.

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Twain based his works on realistic yet colloquial American leading to an increase in the national voice among the American writers of his age. He was the first popular author to come from the interior of the country. In the 19th Century, Twain and other writers did not see realism as a mere writing technique but as a tool that was used for telling the truth as it was without any alterations. Through the 19th Century, realism was used as a tool for speaking about the factors and events that influenced the daily lives of the people of the US such as the civil war. As time went by there were new writers who have found better ways of using literal realism for the depiction of real occurrences in highly captivating ways. One of such writers is Joyce Carol Oates whose use of literal realism has been discussed on various platforms.

There are various elements of realism as it first appeared in literature at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century that are found in Oates’s work. One of the elements of realism that is evident in Oates’s work is social relations. Oates is seen to draw a lot of inspiration from her family life in bringing most of her work.  Despite the fact that the work is fictional, it is based on real-life events. The use of personal experience is a common element of realism and is often known to give the writer the command in terms of determining the impact that the story that is being told has on the readers.  ‘Where are you Going, Where have you been?’ which is based on the Tucson, Arizona murders that were committed by is a Charles Schmid, is a good example because it is based on a real event.

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Apart from focusing on her experience, she also focuses on the trending stories in the media. Some of these stories have led to controversies because of the multiple sides that such stories always have. It is hard to determine which of the sides is accurate. This is the main reason as to why the stories have to be told in fiction. This is an implication that, even when realist literal works are based on true events, they are different from reporting because of the fact that these stories have to be retold with fiction characters. They do not use the exact names of characters nor do they use the exact details such as location and date. However, the storyline has to remain the same so that the readers can be able to easily relate the story to events that actually took place in the society. An example of a situation whereby Oates retells a true story through fictional characters is in her story ‘Where are you Going, Where have you been?’ which is based on the Tucson, Arizona murders that were committed by is a Charles Schmid,

Oates is also seen to be fond of philosophical imaging. In one her interviews she was quoted saying, “Why am I doing this? What is the value of this? What is the purpose of this?’ These questions are very hard to answer.” Her philosophical imaging is mostly seen in her journals where she wrote about her personal experiences. Reading her journal is the closest readers can come to understanding Oates’s perception about herself and the motives that she has to do the things that she does on a daily basis. This is an implication that Oates takes the readers into her personal life thoughts without having to mention that she is doing so.

One of the other elements of literal realism that is evident in Oates’s work is the use of transparent words. The use of the simplest form of language is effective because it is aimed at ensuring that the writer does not deviate from the real intention of writing, which is in most cases highlighting some of the occurrences in the society with the intent of sending a certain message to the reader. Oates does well when it comes to the use of simple language in her work. In the book that is being focused on, Oates seems to be avoiding any lingual complication that might take the attention of the readers away from the message she wanted to put across regarding the four murders that were carried out by a single person.

Most of the realist writers in the 19th and the 20th Centuries took the role of an omniscient narrator. Despite the fact that Oates always avoids using the first person in her realism works, she makes sure that she takes the role of the narrator who knows everything that took place during the event that is being depicted in the story. “She helps the readers in seeing the events of the story from Connie’s eyes (Gale 284).” This is a factor that has always given realism writer a command of the stories that they write about regardless of the nature of the event that they intend to depict. The element of narration can be seen in the way Oates takes the third-person narration role in “Where are you Going, Where have you been?” and many of the other stories that she has written about.

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It is important to note that realism is a fascinating form of art, and the works by Oates and other writers in history have been effective in proving so. Evidently, Oates seems to have mastered the art of literal realism. In her story “Where are you Going, Where have you been?” she has effectively been able to use fiction to narrate a real event through using some of the realism elements that were used by writers at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Gale, Cengage L. Study Guide for Joyce Carol Oates’s “where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. Detroit: Gale, Cengage Learning, n.d.. Print.
  2. Oates, Joyce C, and Elaine Showalter. “where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1994. Print.
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