Social Criticism on the Novel “What I Lived For”

Social Criticism on the Novel “What I Lived For” by Joyce Carol Oates

Writing about the contemporary society is exceedingly critical to provide the views that identify with the modern society. The presentation of the modern society should be done with a lot of information in an effort to prevent misinforming the readers on the formation of the society. The themes that exist in society should be presented appropriately. The purpose of this report is to discuss social criticism in “What I Lived For.”

Joyce Carol Oates emerges as a writer who has been involved in writing about the issues that affect the contemporary society. From her writing, it is apparent that the writer is in a position to bring different issues that ail the contemporary American society. However, her approach of presenting issues is unique since she does not make overt interpretations or even value judgments concerning the things that she presents. One of the issues of concern in her work “What I Lived For” is the presentation of violence. In the contemporary society, dealing with violence has been different from the manner in which it was dealt with in the past. This being the case, it can be indicated that the issue of violence is not prevalent as it was in the past. Thus, in the presentation of the modern society, violence should be seen as an issue that does not affect the society in greater levels. This emanates from the approaches that the modern society has taken in preventing and dealing with violence. For instance, in the contemporary society, it has been possible to deal with violence through the appointment of arbitrators who assist people to settle their differences amicably. In “What I Lived For,” Oates presents a society that is filled with violence. For instance, in the book, the author depicts violence through the use Corky and Christina (Oates 63). The violent fighting between the two characters is a presentation of the kind of violence that is modern society. However, the depiction of this form of violence can be criticized because the issue of people fighting each other in the public because of love is not common in the contemporary society. Therefore, Oates is deemed to have misrepresented the aspect of violence found in the contemporary society.

Alternatively, Oates has used violence in her work, but it has been argued that it should not be perceived as the ruling principle in her writing. This is because violence emerges as only one aspect of Gothicism (Keen 16). Although Oates does not judge the American way of life and does not make moralistic propositions, readers of the contemporary society see their lives in the piece of writing making them depressed by the things that they see (Thoreau To Live Deliberately 74). In her writing, love is usually seen as something that is lacking in society and is depicted to have been replaced by lust as well as violence. Indeed, the instances of heightened love are construed as moments that have the likelihood of bringing murder. From the perspective of the author if love does not exist in the modern society, the alternatives that are available in developing a satisfactory life is insanity. This is through her presentation of characters ending up falling in mental delusion, but not finding fulfillment in the world after they experience difficulties in the love world.

Oates claims to be interested in the presentation of moral as well as social conditions of the generation that she lives in. However, although she presents issues of moral decadence, which may be ailing the contemporary society, she seems not to be in a position to bring out the real picture of a morally-decayed society. In her work, the author brings out the idea that the society is highly decayed in terms of morals and tries to bring out the issues of death, lust, and blood as the concerns that ail the modern society. However, the manner in which the author presents the ideas seems to be over-exaggerated. In the modern society, people usually seek divorce rather than taking fights in the public or even engaging in punitive measures intended to hurt the other party. This is not the same standpoint that the author takes. On her side, Oates does not present the issues of morality as a simple matter, but presents the issues as attracting fights, blood, as well as death. This can be perceived as a thing of the past since people in the contemporary society understands how to behave themselves rather than killing one another. In the modern society, people usually seek legal redress in instances where there is poor management of conflicts or where there is a feeling of discontentment.

In discussing the issues of moral decadence, Oates fails to show the presence of the elements accompanied with an emotional engagement from the author. She can be indicated to maintain aesthetic distance and to never connect different occurrences with causal chains in an attempt to defend the facts as she sees them (Thoreau Where I Lived 42). Based on their human nature, characters can be indicated to be good or evil, and such qualities have been part of her critique since in “What I Lived For,” she tries to be naturalistic in the presentation of the moral characters in a moral world. Although the characters presented by Oates seem to lack the ability to make a verdict between right and wrong, using naturalism approach may be considered inappropriate.

Furthermore, through the use of contemporary historical events as well as actual physical places in the “What I Lived For,” Oates acts as a novelist as well a social critic. For instance, the use of New York City in her work is an indication that the issues she is presenting can be associated with the Americans (Cheyne 28). The use of such physical places indicates that the characters presented in her novel are Americans, and the presentation points out the direction in which the lives of the Americans are headed. Therefore, through her illustrations, Oates shows the society she is presenting the American society as an ailing society.

In conclusion, in “What I Lived For,” Oates presents the contemporary society as experiencing different aspects that are detrimental to the existence of a society. For instance, through the fiction work, the author presents the American society to suffer from violence and lust, which result in deaths. Instead of individuals being depicted to support one another through love, the society is portrayed to have individuals who do not love one another and instead seek lust as an alternative. However, the author lacks to show an emotional appeal for the things that she presents in her work.

Works Cited

Cheyne, Ria. Disability, Literature, Genre: Representation and Affect in Contemporary Fiction. S.l.: Liverpool Univ Press, 2019. Print.

Keen, Suzanne. Empathy and the Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 2007. Print.

Oates, Joyce C. What I Lived for. New York: Dutton, 1994. Print.

Thoreau, Henry D. To Live Deliberately. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Thoreau, Henry D. Where I Lived, and What I Lived for. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. Print.

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