NGCW-Chapter 2

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All exercises are taken from Alice LaPlante’s  The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing

Chapter 2: Part III features two short fiction pieces, Where are you going Where have you been by Joyce Carol Oates and Welcome to Cancerland by Barbara Ehrenreich

I highly recommend Welcome to Cancerland.

Chapter 2: Part III Readings

Where are you going, Where have you been? by Joyce Carol Oates

1. How does Oates define Connie’s character?

She is shallow and sexual yet somewhat afraid of her own sexuality. She rejects her role of a nice girl in lieu of a sexual persona that only comes out when she’s away from home.“She knew she was pretty and that was everything.”

2. How do you characterize the relationship between Connie and her mother? Is it one dimensional? Or is there something that keeps it from being flat and overly familiar?

They don’t seem to understand each other well nor do they want to. Here’s a line of how Connie imagines her own mother sees her in comparison to her sister June: “June did this, June did that, she saved money and helped clean the house and cooked and Connie couldn’t do a thing, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams.” The relationship is more than one dimensional but not overly explored. To some degree, the mother is presented to the reader as a one dimensional character because she’s only interpreted through Connie’s eyes.

3. How does Oates create tension in the piece? What aspects of the piece are the most suspenseful, and why?

The mundane details of Connie’s life and character help create tension between her and Arnold Fiend. She is afraid yet mesmerized by him and the reader eventually feels the same way. He has an ostentatious car (a gold convertible) and a forceful way of speaking. He is a familiar stranger and his interactions with Connie create suspense in the piece.

Welcome to Cancerland by Barbara Ehrenreich

1. How does the writer avoid melodrama in this piece, which is about facing death?

According to NGCW’s author, a melodramatic piece is a work that is “characterized by extravagant theatricality and by the predominance of plot and physical action over characterization” and a sentimental piece is a work that is “falsely emotional in a maudlin way” (pg. 31). These types of pieces tend to rely on stereotypes and unrepresentative depictions in that they do not represent the complexity of a situation. For example, marriages and births are always depicted as happy while funerals are depicted as sad. Welcome to Cancerland is an excellent example of a short story/essay that avoids melodrama and sentimentality by attacking the corporate cult surrounding breast cancer survivors. “Cancer or no cancer, I will not live that long, of course. But I know this much right now for sure: I will not go into that last good night with a teddy bear tucked under my arm.”

2. Isn’t this a piece about fighting a sentimental attitude toward disease? In what ways is Ehrenreich saying the same things we read about in this chapter?

Ehrenreich points out that the cult of breast cancer surviving with all of its ribbons and relays for the cure is a false sisterhood that can be “judged as an outbreak of mass delusion” which celebrates “survivorhood by downplaying mortality and promoting obedience to medical protocols known to have limited efficacy.” This is a stellar rejection of sentimentality of a topic (cancer) that is very prone to sentimental and false displays that the corporate culture surrounding it actually exploits. 

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