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Psychology is the science dealing with mental phenomena and processes. It is the mental make-up or structure of an individual that causes him or her to think or act in the way he or she does. New ideas in this field were very influential on the postmodernism movement in literature. Many writers were inspired by these interesting concepts of how the mind works and the reasons for an individual's personality and behavior. I believe some postmodernist authors were so consumed with such an interest that their thoughts spilled into their work. Writers created protagonist characters that experience isolation or extreme abuse in order to reflect a view of a chaotic world. Evidence of this psychological influence is found in Joyce Carol Oates' short story, 'Haunted'. In this short story, the author forms an unlikely protagonist, Melissa, whom experiences isolation from friends and family and abuse both verbal and physical. Melissa's character is a typical postmodernist protagonist because she lacks the qualities that are generally associated with the role. She is weak, disobedient, and filled with low self-esteem.
In 'Haunted', Joyce Carol Oates writes with expertly controlled prose and deep psychological insight that has characterized her finest work. Oates exposes the darker aspects of society and the human condition; she explores the grotesque and violent mentality that is formed by the isolation of individuals. Oates creates a sense of fragmentation by merging the character's memory with present awareness therefore the story constantly jumps from past to present with a few random thoughts in between.
"â€¦we'd scare ourselves thinking the houses might be haunted though really we knew they weren't haunted, there weren't such things as ghosts. Except-- I am writing in a dimeâ€‘store notebook with lined pages and a speckled cover, a notebook of the sort we used in grade school. Once upon a time as I used to tell my children.."
Throughout the story Melissa is continuously harassed and put down by her best friend Mary Lou. In the end, Mary Lou confesses to Melissa that she hated her and always had. Oates divulges the protagonist Melissa's struggle with her twisted relationship with her best friend, Mary Lou, and her abusive experience that eventually leads to her mental instability; along with coping with Mary Lou's murder. The author is repetitive in describing the broken glass that lies on the floor within the abandoned houses that Melissa and Mary Lou explore. I believe the author is symbolizing how Melissa's mind also becomes shattered because of her isolation and abandonment. Oates' uses a simile to describe the shards of glass underfoot but could also describe Melissa's state of mind.
"I can feel glass underfootâ€¦That terrible brittle sensation under my foot --slippery like water."
Melissa is haunted with the memory of being abused by an unpleasant harsh looking woman who appears out of nowhere in the abandoned Minton house. It is not explained in the story whether the woman is a ghost or an actual being. Perhaps this incident did occur but the abuser was not the woman but instead someone that Melissa knew; and over time in her mental state her memory has formed a fictional woman instead. This scenario is an example of the new ideas of psychology that influenced the writing. A person's recollection of a tragic memory appears to be fantasy in order to guard their mind from the horrible truth.
"My husband has been dead for nearly a year and my children are scattered and busily absorbed in their own selfish lives like all children and there is no one to interrupt me no one to pry into my business no one in the neighborhood who dares come knocking at my door to see if I am all right. Sometimes out of a mirror floats an unexpected face, a strange face, lined, ravaged, with deepâ€‘socketed eyes always damp, always blinking in shock or dismay or simple bewildermentâ€‘â€‘but I adroitly look away. I have no need to stare."
This passage from the story expresses Melissa's isolation in the present world. There is no one who cares to visit, she hides from herself and is shocked to see her reflection in the mirror.
Joyce Carol Oates' short story 'Haunted' is one of numerous examples of postmodern literature that expresses a sense of isolation or fragmentation due to the influence of the new ideas of psychology. It is also only one of many writings by Joyce Carol Oates' that show isolation causes a warped mentality. Melissa had an unhealthy verbally abusive relationship with Mary Lou, was assaulted by an unknown woman figure, was isolated from her children and felt abandoned by the death of her husband and also her only friend. She appears to be disconnected with the present and haunted by memories of the past with no hope for the future. She is isolated from the society. The psychological make-up of Melissa's character and her antihero role is proof of the influence of psychological ideas on postmodernism writing. Melissa appears to be much like the abandoned houses in which she explored; broken, empty, and full of terrible memories.