Truth in Nonfiction discussion

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Constructing and Deconstructing

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

In my International Relations class we learned about Constructivism which is a theory of thought. It explores the notion that there is no objective reality of anything and the world is what we make of it. Since we all have our own schemas and perceptions it is difficult to get our ideas across to others, who have their own schemas and perceptions. I would agree and make the claim that when non-fiction authors, like Capote and Oates, write they construct their own realities of past events. This post-modern idea, then, involves the act of deconstructing, or taking apart, something to understand it. How does Joyce Carol Oates deconstruct Kelly, The Senator, and the accident in Black Water? Provide evidence from the text. Read about the Chappaquiddick incident off the blog and discuss whether your portrayal of the incident would be similar to or differ from Black Water.


message 2: by Caroline (new)

Caroline | 24 comments I believe that Oates deconstructs Kelly, in a way that makes her weak. Oates does this by writing about Kelly's past, and how she views herself. For example on page 51 Oates describes how Kelly see's Buffy in her "silky black bikini," while Kelly "slipped on a daffodil-yellow crocheted tunic out of modesty..." Kelly doesn't believe she is worth of the life she is in. She feels weak, and in truth as a deconstruction of Oates, seems like she has always been weak. The way that Oates deconstructs the senator is a bit different in my point of view than how she deconstructs Kelly. At first Oates makes the senator out to be a very strong and dignified man, stating he went to harvard, he is "the life of the party," but in the end Oates begins to deconstruct him by stating how his looks aren't that great, and how at the party before him and Kelly leave, he starts to loose his charm. This deconstruction of the senator, I believe leads into the accident itself. The way that Oates deconstructs the Black Water incident, is by placing moments of it within the text, at different times, and adding how Kelly is feeling and the different ways the senator may be dealing with it. I believe my portrayal would be similar, I think that Oates did a well written and emotion filled way of telling the story.


message 3: by Tina (new)

Tina Sport | 21 comments Being an avid Oates fan myself, I was disappointed to say that Black Water didn't necessarily excite me the way her usual fiction books do. When deconstructed, Kelly's basic frame is a damsel. I don't say in distress because she doesn't really have any reason to be distressed about. Of course, we read about her troubles with "G," her self esteem issues with Buffy and her strenuous relationship with her family, but all of these problems could be resolved if she acted like a mature adult. Kelly is so careless and dependent on others that it's amazing how she handles herself without the senator. His deconstruction shows a frightened public figure that is about to get caught in an act. According the Chappaquiddick incident, the senator had a wife so he would have been caught with another woman. We see that he is a politician forever campaigning in his introduction on page 36. So with this kind of pressured man paired up with an insecure woman, it makes a strange and pretty sad couple. As for the Black Water crash, it is definitely a fitting end to the story. Oates fits in meaning in every instance where the black water is "filling up her lungs," showing the increasing suffocation that drowning brings. The black water, as Oates makes it to be, is a compilation of all that Kelly and the senator has done in their lives, but with Kelly as such a pathetic character, she can't save herself. The senator on the other hand, can save himself for the sake of his reputation; he had a reason to live.


message 4: by Dr. Talbot (new)

Dr. Talbot | 21 comments Mod
Much to discuss here, indeed--you may choose to hit every question posed by Courtney or you may choose to focus on one (to create more variety in the thread). I really like the inclusion of bringing in a concept from another course, Courtney. Onward, everyone.


message 5: by Brianne (new)

Brianne Lambert | 22 comments In my post I want to address how Kelly is deconstructed in particular. In response to what Caroline and Tina have said about her being a weak and pathetic character I have to agree as much as I usually like to play devil’s advocate. One part that caught my attention was when Oates says, “Poor Scorpio, so easily bruised. So easily dissuaded” (13) because we immediately see the type of character we’re dealing with. The way Oates paints her character, you would expect Kelly to be self confident and independent because she is intelligent, politically active, and seen as beautiful by others. We quickly see there is much more to Kelly, as she is self-conscious about her body and her acne and dependent on the male figures in her life. When she says, “…if I don’t do as he asks there won’t be any later” (7) we see that she will do almost anything to please the Senator, and that she has such low self-esteem she doesn’t believe he will be interested in her if she refuses his request. She was so devastated by her break-up with “G” that she had contemplated suicide, and this act shows Kelly is not capable of surviving on her own. She is paralleled to a child several times throughout the novel, when she is “…whimpering like a child…” (97) as she is trapped, and again when she says, “…she would hold it fast to her sucking lips sucking like an infant’s lips until help came to save her…” (99), and at the end when she is described as “…a defiant child eager to swim by herself” (153). She thinks there’s no way she won’t be rescued, because the Senator had “promised her” (77). Kelly wants us to believe she is independent like when she says, “No pain! no pain! she swore she felt no pain, she would give in to no pain…” (77), but ultimately she is waiting for someone to save her when she may have been able to save herself.


message 6: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Williams | 17 comments I think a connection can be made between the last day of Kelly's life and the accident, when the accident is broken down and each little detail is almost overly interpreted. This statement can be made when looking at the first page and deconstructing the opening scene. Oates writes, "The rented Toyota...was speeding along the unpaved unnamed road...then, with no warning, somehow the car had gone off the road" (3). The car is rented which is also how Kelly's life seems that final evening, as though she is driving someone else's life, not her own. Kelly tries to live a day that is mapped out in a magazine, rather than leading her typical life. Oates writes, "Your stars are wildly romantic now, Scorpio, after a period of disappointment- GO FOR IT!" (13). Then, looking at the line from the opening about moving quickly about an unfamiliar road correlates to the relationship between Kelly and The Senator. Kelly was quickly speeding down a path that was nameless to her, so unfamiliar. Oates hints to the fact that this is uncommon behavior when he writes again about her conforming to the ways of the Scorpio for the night; she should no longer be shy, she should go for what she wants, and do all these things for once, suggesting they have not happened before (54). The final sentence from the beginning quote I referenced is connected to Kelly in the sense that everything happened so quickly and the accident had come with, seemingly, no warning just as the whole evening with The Senator had come with no warning as Kelly keeps realizing she was the one The Senator had chosen as if the reality kept jolting her just as the accident does in the end (54).


message 7: by Mallory (new)

Mallory Garretson | 21 comments By choosing to deconstruct Kelly a bit, I find Kelly Kelleher to be a very hard character to understand. At times I find her weak, and at other times I find her strong. In the same sense, I sometimes see her as beautiful and then at others I see her as unattractive. From this short novel we do aquire a great deal of information about Kelly- her family life, her college experience, her ex-boyfriend, and her previous jobs. We also see a lot of physical images of Kelly from her eyes (eye operation), to her white swimsuit and yellow mesh tunic, to her copper hair, to her pink chipped fingernails, to her slim figure. I had one distinct physical image of Kelly throughout the whole novel. But as for her mental/emotional image, that varied for me. There are times when she seems strong, like when she is struggling to get out of the car in the water; "...she strained to lift her torso higher, to raise her head higher straining so that the small muscles stood out from the sinews and bone of her left arm..." (148). Kelly's struggle to get out of the car proves that she has great physical strength. But to cross over to her weaknesses, she is very self conscious with herself and her body. She puts her self down a lot, does not believe she is all that pretty, has little confidence, is still wounded from her last boyfriend, and can easily be pushed over (how she quickly accepts the Senator's request). These characteristics make her look very weak in my eyes. The character of Kelly is a complex one, and I feel that in some ways Kelly was unhappy with the way she was living her life. Which is perhaps the main reason why she got into the car with the Senator; she wanted a new beginning, a fresh start. She knew she had the strength, she just had to find it and use it. I think Oates did a fascinating job in deconstructing Kelly- she made her very complex and at times hard to understand. But then again which character or person is easy to deconstruct and understand. Only we know exactly how we feel and what we think or ourselves, the rest is open for interpretation. Oates may have deconstructed Kelly Kelleher entirely wrong, but who can say that she did it right?


message 8: by Alix (new)

Alix Gresov | 22 comments After reading about the real Chappaquiddick Incident I think that Oates deconstructs The Senator rather unfairly. What happened that night was a tragic accident, and for The Senator to be caught up in all of it is a traumatizing and unfortunate experience. Kennedy had testified that he was not under the influence of alcohol, and showed extreme remorse for what he had done. After he escaped he made several attempts to rescue his passenger, which is a notable detail of the story. After nearly drowning I'm sure not many people would have been willing to jump back into the water for someone who wasn't even certain to be alive.
In Oates's reconstruction of that night's events, however, she makes The Senator out to be a contemptible politician, concerned only with his career. He drinks a generous amount at the party and lures Kelly in with his seductive personality; then, when the car crashes he makes no attempt at returning to the water to rescue her. He hides from passing motorists, afraid to be seen when in reality Kennedy had said that he took the first opportunity to find a house where someone could help. Oates certainly seems to have added her own take on the story and deconstructed the characters to match the way she saw them.


message 9: by John (new)

John F. (Johnferg) | 24 comments I agree with Mallory in that Kelly is a difficult character to try and interpret as a whole. So many different instances in the book was my opinion about her being changed based on her reactions to certain things or the things that she said. Numerous times throughout the book she was compared to a child as quoted earlier, and towards the end of the book when she was trying to escape from the car she put forth a seemingly tremendous mental and physical fight. "Absurd pink-polished nails, now broken, torn. But she would fight. A blood-flecked froth in her nostrils, her eyes rolling back in her head but she would fight" (144). After reading about Kelly at the party and how she interacted with the Senator made me think of her as a week individual, driven more by her far-fetched dream then her senses. Like Lauren said about what the magazine said about her being a scorpio, I felt like she did live that last day of hers in a different light. "Kelly Kelleher would make the man love her. She knew how. Surprising herself with this thought, and its vehemence. You're ready" (135). The manner in which she held herself amongst the Senator did seem to contradict the persona that Oates gave me of Kelly outside of the Senators presence.

I also found it strange and overall very unsettling to continuously read "As the black water filler her lungs, and she died"(148) before finishing.


message 10: by Cassia (new)

Cassia (Cassia11) | 23 comments Oates depicts the Senator as being, at first, quite "gregarious" and "impatient", with "manly power". To Kelly, he is placed on a sort of pedestal, not just because he is politically empowered, but confidently empowered as well. Kelly, on the other hand, is weaker, more vulnerable, and quite intimidated by her life-long crush, the Senator. These two people, completely opposite, encouraged the strange relationship that led to the Chappaquiddick incident.

All of these descriptions, I can pretty much agree with. Yet I often found myself wishing that the accident could have been described a bit more violently. As strange as that sounds, I think Oates sort of downplayed the accident so that she could focus more on the characters themselves and their relationship. I guess what I am saying, much unlike Alix, is that I would have depicted the Senator a little more negatively, making sure not to leave out the fact that he walked past four houses, didn't tell any of the girls at the party, slept a full night in a hotel room, and only told police of the incident after it had been reported by some fishermen.
Rather than revealing how the Senator easily passed opportunities to find help, she focuses on Kelly's thoughts about the incident, describing her belief that, "he was far away, and everything was so dark, blind. and she understood she'd offended him, and the insult was irrevocable" (pg 124). Oates seems to downplay the Senator's actions off more nonchalantly so that she can focus more on Kelly's thoughts.


message 11: by Skdank09 (new)

Skdank09 | 23 comments Many people have discussed Kelly but I would like to go back to Caroline's discussion of the Senator. Although Kelly was a rather weak character, the Senator was even more so. Oates represents the Senator as a self-centered, selfish, and cowardly figure. From his entrance to the party to the end of Kelly's life, he expected the focus to be on him. Everyone at the party loves him and pays close attention to him and he expects them to. He seems to be a powerful figure at first; however, as Caroline pointed out the Senator's charm deteriorates throughout the plot. Even in the early scenes we see his flaws. Oates points out small flaws like his perspiration and the way his pants do not fit quite right. From a distance Kelly has respected and idolized him but the closer she gets to him the more her projection on him falls apart. She is unable to accept this fact and unfortunately holds onto these delusions until the end, expecting him to save her. The Senator is lacking in self-esteem and drinks to spike his confidence. He could not hold his marriage together and in his drunken state he moves to take advantage of Kelly's lack of confidence and the blind love she feels for him. He is reckless and senseless and drives drunk with Kelly in order to fill his selfish desires. And once they have plunged in the water he acts on human instincts to save himself but is too cowardly to help Kelly in any way. Oates deconstructs the Senator to show all of his bad qualities; there is not a great deal of complexity in the Senators character. Kennedy is such a public figure, most of the public already had a perception of him. Therefore, showing him from a particular lens illuminates Oates' perception of Kennedy.


message 12: by Kelsey (new)

Kelsey Hatch | 23 comments Oates may deconstruct The Senator unfairly, but I respect her choice to create a novella based on a true story, with her voice. I think Oates portrays The Senator as a drunk man taking advantage of an innocent young woman. The horrific Chappaquiddick Incident is obviously looked at from may different angles by the public, but Oates' creation/interpretation is quite biased, as she sympathizes with Kelly. Also, she writes, "Still tasting the beery warmth and pressure of The Senator's mouth on hers. The forceful probing tongue" (55). I think that this opening paragraph for Chapter 14 is really powerful. This may sound gross, but Oates seems to turn The Senator's tongue into a monstrous being that is large, dominating and invading that perhaps is a representation of The Senator's character.

Overall I wasn't thrilled by this novella like I was last semester after reading her short story, "Bad Girls". However, I did like her descriptions of the ocean. For example, Oates writes, "The pounding splashing surf. Beat beat beat of the surf...the rising of the ride, the moon's tide, a tide in her blood..." (54). This passages evokes the image of a heart beating, and perhaps it indicates Kelly's heart beating with anxiety and anticipation before the accident.


message 13: by Maggie (new)

Maggie | 22 comments Just like how Capote wrote himself into "In Cold Blood," I feel like Oates has written herself into "Black Water." I think that because there is no way for her to have known what really happened that day or what those last few minutes were like for Mary Jo Kopechne, Oates instead puts herself into the story and finds a way to write herself into Kelly's character. I don’t think that this book is supposed to be about the exact Chappaquiddick Incident, the exact relationship, or the exact string of events, but instead a sort of fictionalized version of what it would have been like if it had been Oates in the car the whole time.

An example of where I see Oates’s life represented in the book is with Kelly’s close relationship with (or at least the fond memories for) her grandparents. After reading up on Oates's life on Wikipedia, it appears as if she was very close with her grandmother, who actually lived with her. I can see this coming through (I don’t remember the page) when Kelly mentions that she hopes no one has to tell her grandma about her death.

Another example is how Oates seems to be very bookish, maybe even bookish to the point of a slight social distance/ isolation that Kelly seemed to have also experienced (except Kelly seemed socially distant for reasons besides being too involved with her schoolwork). Oates’s life seems a little bit boring/ plain (although greatly successful), which I think she wanted to bring forth in Kelly’s life. Because she had so little to go off of for reconstructing Kopechne's character in her writing, I think that Oates had to put herself into the situation, therefore making the book less about what actually happened with Ted Kennedy and more about what it would be like to drown with a “stranger,” regardless of his status and regardless of whether or not he came back to save her.


message 14: by Amy (new)

Amy Yao | 21 comments When authors practice this "new kind of reportage", they're obviously trying to remove themselves as much as possible from the people in the story. However, I am of the firm belief that authors inevitably put pieces of themselves in their characters, whether they're real or made-up--basically, with a little probing, we can see the authors reflected in the characters. We clearly see this in ICB; the similarities between Capote and Perry are too numerous to count, and I think that part of the reason why Capote spiraled downward following the release of the book was because he had poured so much of himself into the character that he didn't have anything left for himself.

I think that Kelly Kelleher has more than a bit of Oates in her. When Oates deconstructed her character, she revealed intimate aspects about her own character. Kelly represents many women of that era--ambitious and driven, but still unsure of themselves in a world that had so long been dominated by men.

Although I didn't care for how the story was written mostly in prolepsis, I was nevertheless intrigued by the almost circular style of writing. Having been in a few minor car accidents, the moment immediately before the impact lives forever in my memory as one of sudden premonition. This moment is referenced repeatedly in Black Water (the moment right before the car drives off the road), and I think that Oates has done a very unique thing by choosing to focus on that moment, with everything happening before and after merely as sideshows.


message 15: by Ali (new)

Ali Hiple | 23 comments I like what Maggie said about the book being written as if Oates had been in the car the whole time. That is key here, especially in regards to Courtney's prompt of (de)constructivism and subjective reality. To me, it seems as if Oates read or heard about the Chappaquiddick incident and was intrigued, so she wrote "Black Water" as a way of deconstructing and examining the event. It seems like she was fully prepared to take creative liberties when telling this story, and does so unabashedly. How could anyone know things like the conversation that took place on pages 107-108, for instance? Or what the Senator was drinking in the car, or that he kissed/licked/whatever Kelly's shoulder at the party? Maybe Oates was actually able to scrounge up these details. Regardless, we hear her own voice quite clearly in any instance of Kelly's internal thoughts, which make up a majority of the book. This is a different sort of experience that reading ICB, where Capote made more of an effort to avoid his own voice coming through in the writing (or at least claims to have done so). Oates makes no attempt to disguise her voice, and indeed I think she intended the book to be a sort of reaction piece based on an actual event, rather than a true to life re-telling of something that happened.


message 16: by Meghan (new)

Meghan | 23 comments The interpretation that a reader receives from Oates’ attempt to recreate a real story, truly depends on whether or not the truth is known. I knew the truth before I read the first page. As a result, the authorship continuously deconstructed The Senator, Kelly, and the entire story in a manner that strayed closer and closer to the genre of fiction. The true events of the Chappiquiddick Incident, in which Ted Kennedy kills a girl with seemingly no remorse, leaving the case unreported, wander far from the events of Joyce Carol Oats’ love story with a fatal ending…nothing short of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. Far stretched? Possibly. However, I read a story of a young girl falling in lust, facing complications, and concluding with tragedy. My point here is that Oats’ fails to show us the truth, especially in the case of The Senator. At the same time however, she did a great time of developing what may have been the thoughts that streamed through Kelly’s mind as she was in the face of a black watered death. What she left out, what she deconstructed in our perception of The Senator, the story she failed to tell, the one of crime and cowardliness, is vital to the truth of our understanding of what really happened in the events surrounding an innocent death. It is not until the final pages when I saw even a small amount of truth be revealed about The Senator. It was not until this time when I saw some anger towards him and even at this point, the truth was being denied. On page 144, within the final chapter, Oats writes, “He had not kicked her, he had not fled from her. He had not forgotten her.” But indeed he had done all of that! Joyce just fails to acknowledge what really happened. Perhaps she did this for the fact of constructing Kelly’s thoughts in the way Joyce hoped she was thinking; I do not know what she was attempting to create in this piece as she fell far off the beaten path of the truth. On page 147, we finally see The Senator’s fear as he shows more worry in his public image that will be established of this manslaughter, rather than actually saving the girl he continuously ignores as she squanders at the depths of the black water, struggling to capture final breaths of air that is continuously diminishing. Too often was The Senator given the benefit of the doubt in this saga. When did Oats plan to display the truth of what occurred as the victim drew her last breath?


message 17: by James (last edited Feb 15, 2012 08:59PM) (new)

James Augustine | 19 comments Joyce Carol Oates presents the reader with several different instenses where she, just as Truman Capote does, can break down a charater in a novel through personal issues. In this case, Oates clears emphasises vulnerabilty and imperfections both in The Senator and in Kelly. Having been in a serious car accident, I was a bit troubled by the fact that the piece was written in the prolepsis. It constantly gave me the feeling of anxiety and anticipation while symoltaniously coping with the fact this story is tragic. I was in Martha's Vineyard this summer and I went on a beach picnic on Chappaquddick and my friend told me the story as we were driving over the bridge and I was taken back by it then just as I am now. The reading is overwhelmingly visual and you can almost picture yourself in the car with the party cup as booze spills over. Its obviously very picturesque in the sense that you get a great deal of the surrounding as they are constantly desribed and redescribed in the piece. I really enjoyed the novel although for me it was a constant reminder of how careful one has to be behind the wheel of a vehicle.


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