The Literary Writers Of The Postmodernism Period English Literature Essay

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The 20th century has undoubtedly brought about the greatest advances in all areas of medicine and psychology.  Because of this, the literary writers of today's postmodern period are expected to have a better understanding of the human "psyche" than the writers of the prior periods of the Enlightenment, of Romanticism, or even of Realism.  So the question arises of how these discoveries have influenced and changed the writings of today's postmodern movement.  "Haunted," a short story by arguably the most prolific writer of our day, Joyce Carol Oates, is the perfect story for showcasing how issues addressed in psychoanalysis can be used to give a character a sense of disillusionment, fragmentation, and isolation.  The most important thing for someone to realize before approaching this work is that we are not just probing and analyzing the mind of a twelve-year-old girl who likes breaking rules and exploring abandoned properties with her best friend.  We are dealing with a much older woman, and we are looking at how the guilt and trauma she experienced as a child left her alone and disillusioned some thirty-five to fifty years later.

            If we are to commence at the very beginning of this problem, we find the main character, Melissa, writing the words, "Our parents warned us…."   She confesses that the girls were fully aware of the fact that they were not supposed to be doing what there were doing, but they did what they pleased because who was there to stop them?  This may have been alright with Melissa's friend, Mary Lou, but eventually the rule-breaking and everything else that Melissa's "id" was telling her to do began causing her to feel guilty on the inside.  Basic modern psychology tells us that these subconscious, repressed, guilty emotions are bound to surface at some point.  For Melissa, they surfaced on an extremely hot afternoon while she was trespassing at the Minton house.  Melissa's "superego," her guilty desire to be punished, manifests in either a dream or a hallucination which sets her up for the major traumatic event which changes the way she allows the rest of her life to play out.

            Telling Mary Lou of the secret that happened at the Minton house ended quite tragically.  In her typically heartless, cruel fashion, Mary Lou tells Melissa that she hates her, and that she never actually liked her in the first place.  This is not exactly the last thing you would like to hear from a best friend -- definitely not the last thing you would like to hear immediately prior to that best friend's mutilation/rape/murder, and right down the road from where you last told her to go.  This traumatic event and the guilt she bears with it have affected every one of Melissa's relationships since that day. 

Melissa writes of a time when she and her newlywed husband took a trip to the country one afternoon.  He plans on making love to her, but she flips out on him.  She says that he tried to console her, "As if he really loved me as if his life was focused on me and I knew I could never be equal to it that love, that importance."  Melissa is blessed with a husband who truly loves her, but she can not accept his love.  After all, in Melissa's mind, best friends only turn their back on you; they tell you that they hate you and that they never cared for you in the first place.  The way Melissa treats her husband is influenced by the way Mary Lou treated her.  This is known as transference in the world of psychology, and unfortunately for Melissa, her relationship problems do not end with her marriage.  Decades later Melissa writes, "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 alright."  Wow!!  That is complete loneliness and fragmentation.  She still seems to be pushing people away as she did her husband in the cornstalks.

            The saddest psychological element of this story that has been lightly touched on is repression.  Just as Melissa's repressed feelings of guilt about disobeying her parents and trespassing on private property surfaced in the heat stroke, the entire story she is writing down is surfacing now much later in her life.  "I can't remember when I bought this notebook…I can't remember why I started writing in it…but I remember Mary Lou stooping to say those words in my ear."  Here her disillusionment is decades later resurfacing, just like any psychologist today would tell us our suppressed thoughts and emotions will.  Melissa still can not cope with her childhood pain. She is still repressing it even after finishing the story in the notebook.  "Now the story is over. I don't understand what it means.  I know what happened in my life, but I don't know what has happened in these pages."  She remains in denial, not dealing with the truth, because she can not handle it.  "Sometimes out of a mirror floats an unexpected face, strange face, lined, ravaged, with deep-socketed eyes always damp…but I adroitly look away."  She won't even look at her own face in the mirror, a face that sounds quite similar to the face described on the one who administered the punishment for her trespassing years earlier.  A life does not get much more fragmented and disillusioned than this.  If only Melissa had decided to listen to her parents.

            Joyce Carol Oates truly is an amazing writer.  There are dozens more psychological links that could be made in her story.  Oates effectively uses such links to portray Melissa as a postmodern, disillusioned, and isolated individual.  "Haunted" certainly was not a very edifying piece, but it definitely was a thought-provoking and an interesting read.