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Author Question: How does music work in the story? Does music seem to affect the waythat Connie acts and thinks? ... (Read 963 times)


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How does music work in the story? Does music seem to affect the waythat Connie acts and thinks?
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Question 2

What hints does Oates give us that Arnold Friend is not what he seems?Do you find him funnyor frightening? Why?
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Answer to Question 1

  • Music has a very direct effect on the way that Connie acts and thinks. In paragraph 6, describing the drive-in restaurant at which she and her friends hang out, Oates writes: They sat at the counter and crossed their legs at the ankles, their thin shoulders rigid with excitement, and listened to the music that made everything so good: the music was always in the background, like music at a church service, it was something to depend upon. The music that fills her otherwise largely uncluttered head presents a superficial, oversimplified view of life that has no doubt had a major influence in shaping Connies sense of reality. Alone in her house on Sunday afternoon, before Arnold Friends arrival, she listened for an hour and a half to a program called XYZ Sunday Jamboree, record after record of hard, fast, shrieking songs she sang along with (par. 14). This program, playing simultaneously inside the house and out in the yard on Ellie Oscars transistor radio, is seized on by Arnold Friend as a topic of conversation in his attempt at ingratiating himself with Connie.

We should also bear in mind that this story is dedicated to Bob Dylan. It may be unlikely that any of Dylans music flows through Connies mind, but it is a real presence in the story in a number of ways. Some of Arnold Friends repartee seems a weak-minded imitation of Dylanese: surreal and disconnected, as in his tirade to Ellie (par. 133): Dont hem in on me . . . Arnold Friend bears a faint resemblance to Dylan: he has a familiar face, somehow, with hawk-like nose and hair crazy as a wig, and he talks with a lilting voice as if he were reciting the words to a song. His approach is slightly mocking, kidding, but serious and a little melancholy, and he taps his fists together in homage to the perpetual music behind him (par. 77). Joyce Carol Oates has remarked that Dylans song Its All Over Now, Baby Blue (1965) was an influence on her story. Dylans lyric addresses a young girl, Baby Blue (My sweet little blue-eyed girl, Arnold calls Connie), who must make a hasty departure from home across an unreal, shifting landscape. A vagabond raps at her door, and she is told, Something calls for you / Forget the dead youve left. In Dylans Like a Rolling Stone, the young woman is told about Napoleon in rags, whom she has previously laughed at: Go to him now, he calls you, you cant refuse. Oatess title recalls a line from another Dylan song, Mr. Tambourine Man: And there is no place Im goin to.

Answer to Question 2

  • Much about him seems fakery: his masklike face and stage voice, his gilded jalopy, his artificially padded boots, his affecting the speech, dress, and music of the youth culture (although he is over thirty). Looked at this way, he seems a silly, pathetic goof. But this is only one aspect of his character and his function in the story. What, for instance, are we to make of his strangely detailed knowledge of Connie and her family, of his apparent ability to see what is happening at the barbecue, miles away? Is he a supernatural character? Perhaps Arnolds knowledge was obtained merely by pumping Connies friends for information and by keeping close watch on her house, and perhaps his reported vision of the barbecue is merely feigned for Connies benefit. Still, there are hints that he is a devil or a warlock. Perhaps Ellie Oscar, the forty-year-old baby, is his imp or familiar; perhaps his bendable boot conceals a cloven hoof. He works a kind of magic: on first spying Connie he draws a sign in the air that marks her for his own. He threatens to possess her very soul: he will enter her where its all secret and then, after the sex act, she will give in to him (par. 104). A charismatic person like Charles Manson, he seeks young girls to dominate. Oates herself has remarked: The story itself is a Hawthornian parable of a kind, realistic in its surface texture but otherwise allegorical (interview with Barbara C. Millard, Four Quartets, Fall 1988). Is it, then, an account of a confrontation with the Devil, comparable with Young Goodman Brown?


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