"Where Is Here" by Joyce Carol Oates

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Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Is Here?” as a contemporary Gothic ghost story

According to the editors of the Prentice-Hall Literature text entitled The American Experience, author Joyce Carol Oates’ discovery of the stories of Ann Radcliff and Edgar Allen Poe “sparked her interest in Gothic fiction” (324). These Gothic elements typically include “bleak or remote settings, macabre or violent incidents, characters in psychological and/or physical torment, supernatural or otherworldly elements, and strong language full of dangerous meanings” (291) . Oates herself is quoted as saying that “Horror is a fact of life. As a writer I’m fascinated by all facets of life” (324). What, exactly, does Oates mean when she says that horror is a fact of life? Do all people fear something, whether rational or not? Why does horror fascinate her enough to write about it? Is it a means for her to confront her own fears, coming to terms with them by giving them names and “faces” as other horror writers also do? Does she use this genre to indirectly address larger social concerns? Is she simply paying tribute to earlier Gothic writers by using elements from the genre or is this the most effective style for her to convey her ideas and duplicate Poe’s notion of the “single effect”? Finally, what is the point behind her short story entitled “Where Is Here?” Who is the mysterious stranger who arrives late in the evening? Why is he there? What lies behind his odd behavior and enigmatic questions and comments? What relationship, if any, does he have with the new family in his old home? How does his arrival and departure affect the family and why? And why does Oates use Gothic elements to create this narrative? Evidence spread throughout the entire story suggests that at least one character, the mysterious stranger--who is apparently a victim in an abusive home, is a ghost. But…...

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