Suzanne Moore's Reviews > The Gravedigger's Daughter

The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates
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Jul 21, 2010

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Read from September 25 to November 05, 2011



I think JCO put Jacob Schwart in the occupation of gravedigger to show the difficulty immigrants go through when starting a new life. I can imagine the hardship of starting over in a new country, unable to speak the language. The old life is forever gone … Jacob's new job as a gravedigger might symbolize burying the past. Although evacuation from his homeland was supposed to be the family's salvation, he may have felt the migration was the beginning of the end for him. He was digging his own grave so to speak. As the family tries to adjust, Jacob's resentment at what he lost and the anger he has because of prejudice begins to poison his family. His sons leave home in reaction to violence and isolation. Soon Jacob really snaps and shoots his wife and then himself in front his daughter.
After her father's murder/suicide, Rebecca is left a ward of the state. She is known through gossip about the family and her father's crime as “the gravedigger's daughter.”

This story paints a picture of domestic violence, which seems to follow Rebecca. In the beginning she is followed by a man who is a serial killer. It isn't until years later that she learns the truth about him and realizes that she could have been his victim. Like her father, Rebecca buries her past and tries to forge a new life for herself and her son while running away from an abusive marriage. Though the past haunts her, Rebecca's life has dramatically changed for the better. Her son finds solace in his music and grows into an accomplished pianist.

This story is a journey through one woman's life and how she finds the will to survive. The ending is bittersweet as Rebecca is reunited with a cousin she never knew, but only heard about growing up. She has been diagnosed with cancer. JCO leaves loose ends here … makes one wonder and suppose, or maybe reflect on Rebecca's life by truly allowing the reader to reflect through the character's eyes.
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Mary Lou Suzanne, Good, insightful review. Because of the sad and violent expsodes, the book was difficult for me to read at times. It was my first JCO book and I will probably read her again--I think she is very skillful.


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