Uploaded by student Khiem Huynh


Khiem Huynh
AP English 4
In Joyce Carol Oates’s novel “We Were the Mulvaneys” (1996), Oates asserts the
somewhat timid nature of Judd Mulvaney to represent the disconnection within the Mulvaney
family. She backs up this claim by using descriptive details of the never-ending cycle of farm
life, self-deprecating diction about Judd to show his lack of self-worth, and depressing visual
imagery to display his suppressed viewpoints in order to characterize Judd as depressed, lost, and
suffering from a lack of purpose. Given the somewhat lyrical storytelling used, Oates directs her
message to an invigorated audience in order to persuade them that Judd believes himself to be
misfit and out of place, eventually leading him into his preoccupation with the idea of death.
Near the beginning of the excerpt, Oates uses visual imagery that at first conveys a sense
of breathless tranquility and extravagance, but then descends into depressing images that
represent Judd’s strong levels of self-loathing and confusion. This is shown when Judd observes
the “fast-flowing clear water” that is “shallow”. However, he then proceeds to delineate the dull
features of the sky, particularly how it is the “color of lead” and how the “light mostly drained”
the color of the water, hypnotizing him “the way lonely kids do, or kids not realizing they’re
lonely”.This serves to show the current state of Judd’s mind, where he is still able to observe
these crystal, pristine characteristics of life, but it is too often overpowered by his dull and
suppressed emotions that causes him to feel extremely isolated and lost in life. This specific use
of visual imagery also has the effect of showing how many mental health issues arise. Judd’s shy
and low-key characteristics suggest a tendency to keep all of his emotions and feelings to
himself, which only serves to harm one’s spiritual and emotional well-being in the long run,
demonstrating the importance of being able to convey your feelings and messages to another
trusted person.
Khiem Huynh
AP English 4
The author details the never-ending cycle of life and death that occurs among a farm in
order to allow the reader to understand Judd’s motivations for feeling detached and numb from
the rest of the society. This is shown when Judd describes the animals in how “others are born
taking their places not even knowing that they are taking the places of those who have died”.
After bearing witness to animals being slaughtered daily, only to be replaced the very next day in
an endless cycle, Judd’s perception of purpose and his ability to live a fulfilling life have been
suppressed, to the point where seeing this loss of life daily has become natural and unsurprising
to see, as his understanding of the value of life has been incredibly subdued.
Near the end of the excerpt, the author uses self-deprecating word choice and phrases
such as “just a skinny kid” and “the runt of the litter” in order to convey Judd’s extreme lack of
self-worth that serves as a contributing factor to his subtle engrossment with the idea of death.
By not viewing anything attractive about his physical stature, the author conveys Judd as a
depressed, unhappy, young man who finds no captivating qualities within himself. The phrases
“skinny kid” and “runt of the litter” also infer that Judd potentially may have been bullied at a
young age, as bullies gravitate towards kids who are considerably less physically imposing, and
being the runt typically conveys this same message, as someone who is constantly picked on and
degraded. These specific phrases overall aid in detailing how Judd’s frail stature played a part in
his isolated mindset and mentality.
All in all, Oates’s specific use of contrasting visual imagery, descriptive details of the
mentally straining aspects of farm life, and self-loathing diction all serve to show this complex,
mentally distraught character that is Judd, and further expand on how these factors causing these
feelings of detachment and confusion relate to his current state of mind.
Khiem Huynh
AP English 4