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A Probe into Literary Symbolism sample essay

““This here is my name, to begin with,” he said. ARNOLD FRIEND was written in tarlike black letters on the side…” (Oates, 33). This self-introduction of Arnold Friend in Joyce Carol Oates’ Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? sums up the allegorical irony which is also to be found in Good Country People by Flannery O’Connor. Both the short stories are replete with a profusion of symbolisms acting as a set of literary devices. This essay is going to probe into literary symbolisms and their influence on the overall development of the two short stories.

Especial emphasis will be given to two symbolic literary devices that have helped establish the thematic constructs. Three main themes are addressed in Good Country People: good versus evil; the likelihood of salvation after experience with violence and the exposing of intellectual falsifications. (enotes, 2009) The protagonist Joy, who later changes her name to Hulga, becomes aware of the evil through her bitter encounter with Manley Pointer, a Bible salesman.

Even though she used to take pride in her being different from other country people courtesy of education, it occurs to her in the course of her life that ‘Nothing’ is the only substantial faith she can cling onto. So the knowledge of evil she gains can be attributed to her experience with nothingness. This hefty irony is masterfully explained through the symbolic usage of character names. The plot lacks in motion as far as external flow of action is concerned. Instead, the author concentrates on the internal world of her characters to study their psychological traits.

Born as Joy, the protagonist changes her name to Hulga because she thinks she is too ugly to be called by a happy name such as Joy. She deliberately misleads her family in order to find peace in isolation. Her mother Mrs. Hopewell’s name bears another striking irony in the sense that their family, once struck with misery and economic struggle, is stripped off both hope and wellness. Mr. and Mrs. Freeman belong to the social status of tenant farmers and hence they are not free.

But the most subtle irony is demonstrated in the naming of the Bible salesman Manley Pointer. There is a phallic allusion to the first name, suggestive of a male dominance. (Associated Content, 2007) In addition to this, his subsequent escapades with Hulga are hardly in sync with the profession he is in. Inspired by the infamous Tucson killing of several girls by a young man in the early 1960s, Joyce Carol Oats wrote the short story Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? which was published in her short story collection The Wheel of Love in 1970.

From thematic perspectives, the story fundamentally deals with teenage problems of sensible perspectives. Connie, a typical teenage uptown girl, is preoccupied with material thoughts and concerns. Her actions are grossly impulsive without much forethought into consequences. Connie’s flirtatious demeanor lands her in serious trouble once she comes in contact with Arnold Friend. So the story can be regarded as a contemporary documentation of the American society in the 1960s and 1970s, highlighting the adolescent perils.

As far as literary device is concerned, the character of Arnold Friend is thematically antonymous to his name. His manipulative use of language exerts psychological pressures on Connie. Friend’s strange physical appearance makes for the unique interpretation that he is a manifestation of the devil: “One of his boots was at a strange angle, as if his foot wasn’t in it. It pointed out to the left, bent at the ankle. ” (Celestial Timepiece, 2007) Furthermore, the referral to the possibility of Friend’s wooden leg can be compared with Hulga’s wooden leg in Good Country People.

Now as Hulga undergoes a transformation of sorts in the end of the story, Oats keeps her readers guessing about the fate of Connie. There is ample evidence to suggest that just like Hulga, Connie also heads for a bleak destiny after she confronts devil in the form of Friend. This subtle but expressive use of symbolism accounts for a potent literary device in both the short stories. A thorough character analysis of the two protagonists leads to the finding of more resemblances than differences.

Both have been given their fair share of intellectual sophistication in the beginning before the thematic construct of isolation is built around them. Hulga’s didactic but hollow conversation with Manley only reveals her intense urge to be seen by others as socially superior. Similarly, Connie’s careless disposition in the way she wishes to draw the attention of older high school boys is just too pretentious to pass for honest and sensible behavior. Although Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

has significantly lesser number of characters compared to Good Country People, it is evident from the reading that the fate of nearly all the characters in both stories hinges on the actions of the main protagonists. If this minimalist factor, particularly in case of the second story, is taken into consideration as a parameter for symbolic interpretation of the texts, both authors leave plenty of scope for the readers to assess the thematic progressions.


Associated Content. (2007, May 7). An Analysis of Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People.Retrieved March 12, 2009, from http://www. associatedcontent. com/article/235649/an_analysis_of_flannery_oconnors_good_pg2. html? cat=4 Celestial Timepiece. (2007). Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?. Retrieved March 12, 2009, from http://jco. usfca. edu/works/wgoing/text. html enotes. (2009). Good Country People Overview. Retrieved March 12, 2009, from http://www. enotes. com/good-country-people Oates, Joyce Carol. , and Showalter, Elaine. “Where are you going, where have you been? ”. Piscataway: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

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