Neglect and Decay in Joyce Carol Oates' Haunted Essay

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Neglect and Decay in Joyce Carol Oates' "Haunted"

“Things in the world even those built by man are so quiet left to themselves…” People futilely fight the decay of life and relationships in an attempt to find beauty and goodness in the world. Joyce Carol Oates masterfully illustrates this theme in her short story “Haunted.” Oates reveals the protagonist Melissa’s desperate struggle with looming forces like the physical environment, her twisted relationship with her best friend, and even the insanity in her own mind.

Oates utilizes imagery, symbols, and metaphors to show the downtrodden state of the countryside in which Melissa and Mary Lou live. Mentioning it several times throughout the story, Oates uses glass as a major
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In addition, Oates illustrates the weeds and grasses continuously overtaking the structures, showing nature swallowing the abandoned houses in the inevitable cycle of decay. The upstairs and caved-in roof of the Minton house functions as a metaphor for Melissa’s mind. As she and Mary Lou wander through the house, she hears “a low persistent murmuring like quarreling” and though she thinks its coming from upstairs, it is, in fact, in her own mind. Reluctant to go upstairs, she does not wish to see what is actually in her mind. The roof of the house is caved in from neglect, paralleling Melissa’s insanity in the murder of Mary Lou. Within the physical setting of the story, Oates reveals the unavoidable process of decay in abandonment.

Though Oates illustrates the physical aspect of decomposition in “Haunted,” she also describes the emotional and mental corrosion in Melissa, revealing throughout the story psychological aspect of decay. Melissa’s twisted relationship with Mary Lou results in extreme pain and feeling of neglect for her. Oates shows Melissa’s feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem as a result of Mary Lou’s abuse. Mary Lou constantly taunts and mimics Melissa with her “sneering little laugh” and but Melissa always forgives her because she, in a sense, idolizes Mary Lou as perfect. Oates shows the internal conflict in her secret desperation to be Mary Lou’s sister but intense hatred of Mary Lou for making

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