62 pages 2 hours read

Joyce Carol Oates

We Were the Mulvaneys

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1996

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The Traditional Nuclear Family as the Place of Support or Condemnation

The main concept of the novel centers thematically around the notion of the all-American family, harmonious in their relationships and living a prosperous and peaceful existence in the rural northeastern US in the early 1970s. Michael and Corinne were born before World War II, yet the reality of this war never figures prominently in their story, almost as if Judd, born in 1963, is not even aware of this part of their lives. This is significant, because he presents their courtship and marriage as timeless, almost predestined, never touching upon the outside realities of their lives. This isolationistic character of their relationship is something they carry over into the family life, and Oates makes a clear point that this quality renders the Mulvaneys both impressive and distasteful to other members of their small-town community. Their four children, Mike Jr., Patrick, Marianne, and Judd, are at the same time popular and separate, essentially self-sufficient within their closely-knit family. Oates pushes the idea of the united family front to its limit, when the family becomes not an integral part of a wider society but a stubbornly detached entity that destabilizes the communal spirit of the small town.