Joyce Carol Oates Against Nature Essay

But as a writer and a reader of literature, I am also just concerned with stories and characters. But I was also interested in the city of Niagara Falls, and if you live in that area, you may refer to “the Falls,” and “Niagara Falls” is the city. Tourists know about the Falls and they take pictures of the Falls and the cliché of honeymooners going there. [In the late 1970s, residents of the Niagara Falls area discovered a canal once used as a hazardous waste disposal but filled in more than 20 years earlier was causing health problems and birth defects. And the fact that he was drinking as a consequence of his idealism, he was very, very upset, and so on the neighborhood in the city his reputation was actually quite bad. And I wanted to write about Niagara Falls because I lived in that area and I had a grandfather who died of a work-related illness, emphysema, but it wasn’t known at the time, really, what was wrong with him. A person could write a version of in 20 pages, but it wouldn’t be fully realized. RB: Late in the book, you introduce a new character partly to explicate the youngest member of the family, the daughter. RB: How close are you to the stories you have written? Pop culture doesn’t really honor the people I think are selfless and much more worthy. And then later on it developed that they were not the target. And there is this flurry of interpretation that later is completely discredited. But Niagara Falls as a city is a very deeply troubled, financially beleaguered American city that had a lot of heavy industry and still has some industry but is very depopulated. The resulting emergency evacuations and legal fallout prompted increased attention to environmental problems nationwide.—ed.] JCO: Has it ever recovered? But I wanted to write a novel where a character is unjustly considered to have been a bad father and then it’s realized after his death that he was really good father. He worked in the factory in Tonawanda, which is near Niagara Falls. They said, “This is communism, to criticize.” Back in the 1950s, there was no concept of environmental protection. Are you tempted to continue this story or make this story longer? I became very interested in the character called Stonecrop, that boy. So my novel is about a woman who is a homemaker who did finish high school but never really was well educated.

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In Europe, there has always been the tradition that writers have a civic role and that they are cultural spokesmen. That tends to be much less the case in this country. When you look at the United States—a vast and enormous country with all these different regions—and some writers in different parts of the country, maybe the West or the Southwest, they get involved in environmental protection and they stand up and campaign for different issues. They don’t understand that meeting people is enjoyable. They feel that they are going to lose something The students get to really, really like one another. Is there much concern with ethical issues in the public conversation? JCO: Yes, I grew up about 20 miles from Niagara Falls. Back in the 1950s and earlier, you were thrown out in to this great ocean of conflict and there were people in power, and they tended to be white men and they had power and they weren’t going to give it up to some black people or some women. He’d been drinking; he’d beat up his wife and scare his children and run out into their yard—but the father was kind of sacrosanct and the police would never come to investigate because that was his turf. Of course now we have a government that is not very friendly to the environment. I don’t probably use a word like “successful.” To me, it is fully realized. And it’s about a woman who loses her mother—that is, her mother dies—and this very close to my own emotional experience because I lost my mother in 2002. The emotions are very much my own emotions and the consequences of losing a mother, who was a very wonderful mother, who is very well loved. Many of us have mothers, fathers, grandfathers who were very wonderful people in the family but they don’t leave any cultural monuments— RB: They don’t leave a trail. It’s just that these people are unheralded in the culture. I was giving a reading at Yale and the first news reports came in about a day care center being bombed. And I am reading for the best American mystery stories, 2005. JCO: Yes, he’s the series editor and I am the guest editor. JCO: Well, that’s a difficult question to answer because the terms moral value and ethical values are used but they are used for political expediency. I know the area very well and I go back often to visit. Niagara Falls as a phenomenon of nature is extraordinary. RB: Ariah is an odd woman who mirrors her husband’s mother. So we may be going backward and losing some of our gains. I realized fully the dramatic possibilities of the material and the characters, and it can’t be too much. To fully realize material and characters—that’s the aim of the writer. The dramatic story of their lives is finished—it’s ended. Our culture is very hypnotized and fascinated by extremes of success. And everybody was thinking why would you bomb children? Some of her recent novels are is set in 1950 in familiar Oatesian territory, western New York state, specifically, the city of Niagara Falls. RB: Like Dirk Burnaby, the noble lawyer in JCO: Yeah, people like him, who do exist in the world. It’s more, “How does one respond in an immediate ethical altruistic way when there are so many options and when it maybe difficult to make that choice? I would never write a play and then think that was it. Ariah and Dick Burnaby and their three children are the nucleus of the story, which unfolds over three decades against the backdrop of one of nature’s awe-inspiring landmarks and a region suffering the dramatic decline and environmental ills (remember Love Canal? Robert Birnbaum: Do you have any particular preoccupations these days, which won’t let go of you, that haunt you? Most of my writing does arise out of some hauntedness of some kind. JCO: I’m working on a story—I mean I’m always working on something so it tends to be somewhat fleeting. ” We talk about things like this at Princeton University in ethics seminars. A play I adapted from my novel is going to premiere in Washington in January. A conversation with the prolific Joyce Carol Oates about her most recent novel, why she loves to teach, and how many other books are gestating in her desk.Perhaps it is too obvious a joke to say that Joyce Carol Oates’s picture appears in the dictionary next to the definition of “prodigious.” The author of nearly 30 novels (including some published under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith), countless volumes of short stories, poems, children’s stories, and essays, she is often characterized as a workaholic, to which charge she told the in 1975, “I am not conscious of working especially hard, or of ‘working’ at all.And a good teacher in those days had to whip the children. But most of us don’t have that kind of austerity that he had. But in my writing I am mainly writing about people. In a way we expect people to do good but not in a florid or pumped-up way. RB: Would there be a phrase we might employ, “the ordinariness of decency,” or something? Most people would choose to behave in an ethical and good way if they knew what the options were. For instance, every time we eat something, especially if it’s chicken or veal or something, we are buying into a consumer culture in which the animals have been grossly mistreated. And there are lots of really strong moral arguments. We tend to think we are good people and that we have God on our side. No rent.” It’s because she loves people too frantically. But Norma Jeane who played the role was not like that at all. RB: So Ariah after her first marriage is always seeing her relationships as temporary— JCO: That she has been cursed. When it came right down to it, she loved that dog very, very much. JCO: And I have never met anyone who has—none of my friends. RB: The same 1,200 people out of 270 million—the usual scientific statistical random sampling. Henry David Thoreau was always questioning authority and thinking who is telling me this and why? I read Thoreau when I was just 15, 16 years old, and I think he’s very beneficial for a young person. Being negative and dismissive of everything is and that ultimately is not useful. And yet most of us are not going to be thinking about that all the time and then each day we have so many things to think about; when we reach for something in the grocery store you can’t be thinking, “Where did this come from? ” Some people do but most people don’t have time for that. We tend to think we are good people and that we have God on our side. But the other nations think they are good people and that they have God on their side. She wants her son, Royal, to marry a certain girl because that girl is sweet and not too smart and she wants the couple to live with her. I like to think that I would not be like that myself. RB: A lot of that came from what happened to her first husband. RB: As opposed to something prior—maybe that is why she married him, some odd connection to him JCO: Since her first husband commits suicide on the morning after their wedding night, she was very humiliated and mortified and shamed. RB: She always feels something was going to go wrong. She wanted her children to stay right in that house so that nothing will happen. She wants her daughter to be right in that house in the next room. It’s to show that Ariah is so vulnerable—she pretends to be tough and she pretends to be cynical, but inside she is just melting and she is very vulnerable. As far as she knows he betrayed her with another woman. RB: So when you put a work away, what state is it in? So if you had a survey where they aren’t counted that doesn’t seem like a survey that is very scientific. RB: It’s unfortunate that the distinction between skepticism and cynicism has been collapsed. Writing and teaching have always been, for me, so richly rewarding that I don’t think of them as work in the usual sense of the word.” Oates was born in Lockport, N. Y., and attended Syracuse University, graduating as valedictorian, before receiving her master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin. RB: You might have said, “Because I can.” JCO: Well, it’s such a collaborative effort. I can’t read Shakespeare, but I love to see the plays performed.


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