We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates: Literary Analysis

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In Joyce Carol Oates’ novel We Were The Mulvaneys, the character Judd Mulvaney experiences the concept of death for the first time while out in the wilderness. Through the use of vivid imagery, repetition, and child-like diction, Oates portrays Judd’s innocent curiosity and wonder of the world before he discovers the reality of death. Judd’s perception of the world changes as he becomes aware of the passing nature of time and the potential dangers of the world. His naive and child-like diction contrasts with his deeper and more thoughtful language after his realization. Judd’s transformation from an innocent child to a wiser and more realistic boy is depicted through his changing mindset. Oates highlights the importance of understanding the fragility of life and the significance of time in this lifetime.
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Table of Contents

  • We Were The Mulvaneys Judd Mulvaney Character Analysis
  • Imagery in We Were the Mulvaneys
  • Repetition in We Were the Mulvaneys
  • Other Literary Devices in We Were the Mulvaneys

We Were The Mulvaneys Judd Mulvaney Character Analysis

Joyce Carol Oates’ contemporary novel We Were The Mulvaneys depicts a young boy, Judd Mulvaney, out in the wilderness discovering the concept of death of the first time and the quick, passing nature of life. Through various literary techniques such as lively, colourful imagery, repetition, and child-like diction, Oates portrays the thoughts of an innocent young boy fathoming death for the first time.

Imagery in We Were the Mulvaneys

Throughout the entire passage, the author writing with vivid imagery to manifest the feeling of being young Judd Mulvaney. The “fast-flowing clear water, shallow, shale beneath” outdoors fascinates Judd as he “hypnotized [himself] the way kids do.” By describing the world around Judd, Oates emphasizes the way that the young boy sees his world as a clean, clear environment. In the later part of this novel, Judd’s sense of clean imagery from nature soon deteriorates when he realizes and comes into contact with the notion of death; Judd also finds that “when dry yellow leaves ... don’t fall from a tree the tree is partly dead,” when detailing his surroundings. His observant nature makes him keen to the hidden truths of nature’s cycle of life and death. The colourful imagery that Judd paints characterizes his young, untouched curiosity of the world around him and gives him a sense of wonder and excitement about the world.

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Repetition in We Were the Mulvaneys

As Judd wanders about the outdoors and almost falls off a bridge, he feels time stop and slow down. In that moment, he becomes aware of “his heart beating ONEtwothree ONEtwothree! Every heartbeat is part and gone.” Using this repeating phrase, Oates describes Judd’s new perception of the world as potentially dangerous and time as something not meant to be wasted. With this new wisdom, Judd’s young view traces a path to where he discovers and questions whether “[he] is going to die” because he realizes that “Judd Mulvaney could die.” By constantly repeating this phrase, the author emphasizes Judd’s moment of realization as he transitions from a young, innocent, and naive child, to a boy who uncovers the hidden secret of death and the limitations of time in this lifetime.

Other Literary Devices in We Were the Mulvaneys

In the novel, Judd’s youth is established through his child-like diction, which contrasts with his deep, secretive diction after his realization. He yelps, “oh boy! we-ird!” when he feels a “scary and ticklish [feeling] in his groin.” Oates characterizes Judd as simply a small child seeing the world for the first time, with wide, open, and curious eyes. After his discovery, his youthful diction is replaced with more profound diction as he realizes that “he wouldn’t just lose people [he] loved, but they would lose [him]—Judson Andrew Mulvaney.” As the novel’s passage progresses, Judd transforms from a naive, innocent child to a wise, more thoughtful boy, living with a secret of life that he only know. His childish nature is exposed by his commentary, written in parenthese, as if Judd is taking to himself, like a child would. At first, he describes the world as a bring, vivid place to live, but as he soon realizes that everything may die one day, Judd take on a burden and loses a small part of his childhood, as he no longer sees the world in rose colored glasses.

Carol Joyce Oates’ novel expresses Judd’s changing mindset from being a youthful child, to suddenly being wiser and more realistic about the world.

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