1970 -- Them

Elaine Showalter begins her recent introduction to Them (Modern Library paperback edition, 2006) by pointing out that all four books in Oates’s Wonderland Quartet, these written in a remarkable five-year burst, 1967-1971, were nominated for the National Book Award. Oates has written that the novels, taken as a unit, were conceived as “critiques of America—American culture, American values, American dreams—as well as narratives in which romantic ambitions are confronted by what must be called ‘reality.’”


The ambitions are reflected in Oates’s working title of “Love and Money”; the reality of poverty and violence is reflected in the quotation from John Webster’s The White Devil with which Oates begins her story: “…because we are poor / Shall we be vicious?” The reality and the critique are only enhanced by Oates’s tongue-in-cheek comment in her prefatory Author’s Note that her central character survived her “nightmare adventures” to become a Dearborn, Michigan housewife. This mock-comfort to her reader seems cancelled out in Oates’s Afterword, in which she says that completing her Wonderland series allowed her to move “into the yet-uncharted, apocalyptic America of the late Vietnam War period when the idealism of antiwar sentiment had turned to cynicism and the counterculture fantasy … had self-destructed.”

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