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Shopping By Joyce Carol Oates

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What is love? Love is a very unique and significant word to each human being. Unconditional love is a particular kind of love that can take place when two people allow the other to come close minus any reluctance. In most families, the connection between parents and child is one of unconditional love. Though, not all families’ interactions are idyllic. In the short story “Shopping” by Joyce Carol Oates, a mother and daughter shop at a suburban mall, but are followed around by a bag lady.

Their different reactions to her plight expose a growing rift between them and disrupt their well-ordered existence. Mrs. Dietrich, the mother of the main character Nora is trying to get her daughter to love her by prying into her life, asking her incessant questions and basically making a nuisance of herself. She has endured victims within her families. She has lost the love.

The association between a mother and a daughter is one of difficulty, distress, and sweet booty.  There is no exclusion between Nola and Mrs. Dietrich, characters in Shopping.  The problems of their correlation are revealed during their yearly shopping jaunt.  In the time spent together, Mrs. Dietrich is clearly trying to get to know her daughter better and learn about her inner person.  She still perceives that Nora is a little child and asks about her well being by asking her routine questions (Roberts & Jacobs, 2006).

Mrs. Dietrich frantically tries to hang onto the child in Nola.  She aims to remain in her daughter’s life by wishing to know “why are you so quiet” and “what are you thinking?” (Roberts & Jacobs, 2006).  In Oates short story, she builds Mrs. Dietrich’s and Nola’s association by her presentation of the contradictory desires of mothers and daughters. The shopping excursion permits Mrs. Dietrich to try to make a way into her daughter’s new adult life and float up the child.

In the story, Mr. Dietrich objects to Nora wearing a particular jacket and thus creates a further division between her and her daughter. The reader is also able to observe the revolt demonstrated by Nola in both keeping the jacket her mother finds objectionable, and wearing it to their ritualistic shopping trip. Mrs. Dietrich commits to memory an earlier shopping trip. Power becomes many mothers’ fundamental premise later in life during their empty nest stage, where they once again attempt to be in command of their children’s lives. In ending, the jacket is a vital representation, screening a partition and alluding to the wish for mothers to be in charge of their children.

In objecting to Nora wearing the jacket, Mrs. Dietrich is trying to keep Nora as a child and not letting her grow up. Even if she rather reluctantly accepts the fact that Nora is now an adult, she tries to control her as she his afraid her daughter will leave her one-day and she will be left all alone in the world. This is rather ill fated behavior by Mrs. Dietrich, as it will make Nora rebel against her and leave her mother quicker than she would have planned before. It also causes Nora to distance herself away from her mother whom she perceives her as too dominating.

In “Shopping” the story’s loathing, its fury, its aggression stays on a wholly psychological and inner echelon. Furthermore, this is the abhorrence, wrath and hostility of usual life. There is a familiarity in all its horrifying blatancy: “No big deal, Mother,” Nora said, “Don’t have a stroke or something. Seeing Nora now, Mrs. Dietrich is charged with hurt, rage; the injustice of it, she thinks, the cruelty of it, and why, and why? And as Nola glances up, startled, not prepared to see her mother in front of her, their eyes lock for an instant and Mrs. Dietrich stares at her with hatred.” (Roberts & Jacobs, 2006)

This is a story in which both the point of view, the mother’s and the daughter’s, are given their appropriate, even though the recounting takes only the mother’s point of view. Oates achieves this by using exceedingly restrained word preference, as in the portrayal of a bag lady they run into at the mall: “Her posture is unfortunate — she sits with her knees parted, inner thighs revealed, fatty, dead white, the tops of cotton stockings rolled tight cutting into the flesh.” (Roberts & Jacobs, 2006)

The polished strength of Mrs. Dietrich’s clandestine glimpse, along with her profound revulsion, is submitted in the depiction itself; but her moral fragility (which is what Nora, the sanctimonious teen-ager, holds against her) is given away in that word “unfortunate” — not practical for the woman herself but to her stance, in an almost inconsistently Emily Post style. In this one sentence, as indeed all through the story, the reader shares and even agrees with the mother’s view; and yet the reader also comprehends precisely what the daughter perceives as intricate about her.


Roberts, Edgar V. and Henry E. Jacobs. (2006).  Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing, Prentice Hall.

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