We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates: Literary Analysis

May 6, 2021 by Essay Writer

We Were The Mulvaneys

Joyce Carol Oates’ contemporary novel We Were The Mulvaneys depicts a young boy, Judd Mulvaney, out in the wilderness discovering the concept of death of the first time and the quick, passing nature of life. Through various literary techniques such as lively, colourful imagery, repetition, and child-like diction, Oates portrays the thoughts of an innocent young boy fathoming death for the first time.

Throughout the entire passage, the author writing with vivid imagery to manifest the feeling of being young Judd Mulvaney. The “fast-flowing clear water, shallow, shale beneath” outdoors fascinates Judd as he “hypnotized [himself] the way kids do.” By describing the world around Judd, Oates emphasizes the way that the young boy sees his world as a clean, clear environment. In the later part of this novel, Judd’s sense of clean imagery from nature soon deteriorates when he realizes and comes into contact with the notion of death; Judd also finds that “when dry yellow leaves … don’t fall from a tree the tree is partly dead,” when detailing his surroundings. His observant nature makes him keen to the hidden truths of nature’s cycle of life and death. The colourful imagery that Judd paints characterizes his young, untouched curiosity of the world around him and gives him a sense of wonder and excitement about the world.

As Judd wanders about the outdoors and almost falls off a bridge, he feels time stop and slow down. In that moment, he becomes aware of “his heart beating ONEtwothree ONEtwothree! Every heartbeat is part and gone.” Using this repeating phrase, Oates describes Judd’s new perception of the world as potentially dangerous and time as something not meant to be wasted. With this new wisdom, Judd’s young view traces a path to where he discovers and questions whether “[he] is going to die” because he realizes that “Judd Mulvaney could die.” By constantly repeating this phrase, the author emphasizes Judd’s moment of realization as he transitions from a young, innocent, and naive child, to a boy who uncovers the hidden secret of death and the limitations of time in this lifetime.

In the novel, Judd’s youth is established through his child-like diction, which contrasts with his deep, secretive diction after his realization. He yelps, “oh boy! we-ird!” when he feels a “scary and ticklish [feeling] in his groin.” Oates characterizes Judd as simply a small child seeing the world for the first time, with wide, open, and curious eyes. After his discovery, his youthful diction is replaced with more profound diction as he realizes that “he wouldn’t just lose people [he] loved, but they would lose [him]—Judson Andrew Mulvaney.” As the novel’s passage progresses, Judd transforms from a naive, innocent child to a wise, more thoughtful boy, living with a secret of life that he only know. His childish nature is exposed by his commentary, written in parenthese, as if Judd is taking to himself, like a child would. At first, he describes the world as a bring, vivid place to live, but as he soon realizes that everything may die one day, Judd take on a burden and loses a small part of his childhood, as he no longer sees the world in rose colored glasses.

Carol Joyce Oates’ novel expresses Judd’s changing mindset from being a youthful child, to suddenly being wiser and more realistic about the world.

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