We have read or heard many stories throughout our lives. We know that stories can vary in purpose: They can either teach a moral lesson or entertain. Some stories interest us; others do not. In order for a story to be interesting, it must be told in a way that does not bore or confuse the reader. This story must have elements that attenuate to a central purpose. These elements (setting, character, plot, point of view, symbol, theme, etc.) forge the thoughts and ideas of the author. Joyce Carol Oates Stalking tells the tale of a young girl growing up in modern suburbia. Stalking is a critical review of modern American society and shows the detrimental effects that it can have on a young child.
The main character in this story is stalking the Invisible Adversary, who is the personification of the neglect that she has received in her life. In order to send this message to the reader, Oates emphasizes the point of view of the main character, plot, and setting in her short story Stalking. The narrator of Stalking is omniscient as she follows the main character, Gretchen, throughout a city. She shows us that Gretchen is anti-social: If forced, she takes part in games (Oates 162) and she just stands around, her face empty, her arms crossed and her shoulders a little slumped (162).
We also see that Gretchen is oblivious: Gretchen waits until [traffic] is nearly cleara single car is approaching. (Oates 161) and she plods through a jumbled, bulldozed field of mud and thistles and debris that is mainly rocks and chunks of glass (162). Although the narrator visually guides us on this journey, she also lets us into the mind of Gretchen – we see things from Gretchens point of view. Thoughts of Ill get you (Oates 161)Out of my wayYoull be sorry for that(162) shows us that Gretchen is angry and spiteful. Her anger and spitefulness are directed towards her Invisible Adversary – an imaginary playmate that she has created.
Why is she angry, anti-social, and spiteful? Why is she stalking the Invisible Adversary? The linear plot quickly builds in this story and answers our questions at the end. As the Invisible Adversary leads Gretchen from place to place around town, Gretchen continues to shows us her audacious behavior everywhere she goes. In one afternoon, she knocks over a garbage can, steals, vandalizes a restroom, and ruins a dress. Her reckless attitude is further shown when the narrator describes Gretchens appearance. She is stocky and could be good at gym, if she bothered (Oates 162).
There is also a bit of irony and contradiction when the narrator describes her face. She has untidy, curly haireyebrows heavy and darka stern, staring look, like an adult man(Oates 164). Her nose is perfectly formedher face is attractive (Oates 165). We now know that she was not born unattractive; she chooses to be unattractive.
A precursor for the explanation of Getchens behavior is when she does not acknowledge her mother at the mall. That moment in the story indicates that Gretchen feels some resentment towards her mother. We later find out why she resents them – Her mother is probably still shopping, her father is out of town for the weekend (Oates 166). Gretchens parents neglect her. She fills the void in her life, created by her parents neglect, by creating an Invisible Adversary.
Of course, she is angered by their neglect and therefore is angry with the Invisible Adversary. Oates places this story in modern suburban America (no later than 1972). Without this setting the story does not have much meaning. Gretchens parents neglect is caused by the leisure of modern America.
Gretchen is raised in a big white colonial home (Oates 166) where her mother is engrossed in shopping and her father is out on a business or fishing trip. Even though she is raised in a house of comfort and privilege, she is unhappy with her life. Not even the material objects in a nearby shopping mall can please her. In fact, she defiles anything that represents privilege and comfort, including her white boots, lipstick, toothpaste, a dress, her home, and herself. The narrator constantly reminds us where we are; where this story is taking place. She makes note of the Pace & Fichbach Building, Buckingham Mall, Federal Savings Bank, Cunningham Drug Store.
The Invisible Adversary is always seeking refuge within these places. He just doesnt go into a mall, or by a bank, or into a drug store. No, he goes into the Buckingham Mall, by the Federal Savings Bank, and into Cunningham Drug Store. Gretchen hates the Invisible Adversary, follows him into these places, and brings her hatred along.
Gretchen disrespects these American icons not only because the Invisible Adversary hides in them, but also because her parents neglect hides in them too. Joyce Carol Oates uses three elements in her story Stalking: point of view, plot, and setting. We see this world from the narrators and main characters point of view to better understand the main character: Gretchen is angry, spiteful, and anti-social. Oates sets up a simple, but interesting, plot to anchor our attention to the main characters problem: Gretchen stalks the Invisible Adversary and we want to know why. And Oates places us in a setting that is directly related to Gretchens problems: The American culture leads to Gretchens parents neglect of her; Gretchens parents neglect leads to the manifestation of The Invisible Adversary. Oates effectively uses these three elements to allow us understand the underlining point of this story.