Analysis of an excerpt from We Were the Mulvaneysby Joyce Carol Oates “Even though truth is rare, there is still more of than people want.” -Josh Billings
Theme • Society has never been one to except death. The few people who realize that death is certainty are the ones who may actually have the most potential in life. Joyce Carol Oates uses multiple literary elements to use her character Judd as a representation of the ideal humanity which in reality is treated as an outcast.
Literary Elements • Nature Imagery • Strong Narrative Voice • Repetition • Ethos • Tone • Topic Shifts • Syntax
Through strong nature imagery, Judd shows how he is more of an ideal human. Ideal humans care more for nature than the manufactured world. • “Fast-flowing clear water, shallow, shale beneath, and lots of leaves. Sky the color of lead and the light mostly drained…” • “…I stood immobile leaning on the railing (pretty damn rotted: I’d tell Dad it needed to be replaced with new planks, we could do it together) until it began to happen as it always does the water gets slower and slower and you’re the one who begins to move…” • “I leaned farther and farther over the rail staring into the water and I as moving, moving helplessly forward, it seemed I was moving somehow upward rising into the air, helpless…”
Judd’s strong narrative voice shows his sense of alienation and disconnect from the world • “Hypnotizing myself the way kids do. Lonely kids, or kids not realizing they’re lonely.” • “I leaned farther and farther…I was moving somehow upward, rising into the air, helpless…”
Joyce Dates uses repetition to allow the reader to gain a greater understanding of the implications of what he is thinking and the idealism of such thoughts “ every heartbeat is past and gone! Every heartbeat is past and gone!...am I going to die?” (line 31) “Dying, dying, dying all the time, many have been named, and others are born taking their places”(line 35)
Ethos is used to give the reader the impression that Judd Mulvaney has experience with life and death and has learned the hard truth about it. “and others are born taking their places no even knowing that they are taking the places of those who have dies”(line 36). “ leaning over the rotted rail gaping at the water hypnotized and scared”( line 41).
Oats uses topic/tone shifts to show how the narrator becomes the ideal human and comes to realize that death is certain • “rotted rail” -> “Dad and Mike” • “sweet to see neat curving white letters” -> “bike snagged in the fender” • “Dad grinned and laughed” -> “most terrible thought”
Joyce uses a different style of syntax to represent thoughtfulness of the narrator • “And I looked after them, these two people so remarkable to me, my dad who was like nobody else’s dad and my big brother who was- well Mike Mulvaney: “Mule Mulvaney – and the most terrible thought came to me.” • “And I, just a skinny kid, the runt of the litter at High Point Farm, would have to pretend not to know what I knew.”
Text-to-Text Connection • Game of Thrones: Eddard Stark believes in having a high level of honor which society did not accept. They would rather get what they wanted by any means. Because of these difference if beliefs, Edd was treated as an outcast and murdered.