Moving from pathological to productive melancholia: Daughters who survive loss in Joyce Carol Oates’s short fiction

Author Identifier


Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Supervisor

Debra Dudek


This thesis examines the pervasive violence and emotional injuries inflicted upon the female characters in Joyce Carol Oates’s short fiction, where the women suffer tremendous loss. While critics have discussed what losses occur because of the various depraved and damaging acts, there is little literature exploring the consequences of these losses. I offer a more nuanced approach to interrogate Oates’s work, avoiding a simplistic tainting of Oates’s women as mere victims, and instead focusing on how that loss is apprehended: that is, analysing what is left after loss, and how this loss shapes the individual. Although the female protagonists often remain fixed in a melancholic disposition, I contend the women are victims of childhood traumas who reveal melancholia of their worlds, not as pathology, but as a productive state of being. Part One contextualises the dominant critical responses to Oates’s female protagonists, and outlines the attachment, trauma, and loss theories I use to analyse the diverse representations of traumatic experience, loss, and melancholia in Oates’s literature. Part Two interrogates three short stories from early in Oates’s career, published during the 1960s. Part Three examines three stories spanning the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, with one story for each decade of the middle years of Oates’s oeuvre. Part Four reflects on three of Oates’s later stories from the 2000s. Whether the daughter’s loss is the result of her father or her mother, all the female characters undertake what is required to survive their trauma: freeing melancholia from pathology and reassigning it as a healthy response to grief.



Access Note

Access to this thesis is embargoed until 18th July 2028.

Access to this thesis is restricted. Please see the Access Note below for access details.