Oates, J. C. - Black Water - Stylistic Devices

Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 2001

3 Pages, Grade: 14 Points


J. C. Oates - ,,Black Water"

J.C. Oates` "Black Water" is based on a well known historic event; the very first chapter of the novel already imparts to the reader nearly all that is actually happening during the quick moment of the accident - so why does one read all the following 31 chapters with undiminished curiosity and interest when there is nothing really new, nothing "substantial" told? "Black Water" is not a typical novel where suspension is gradually built up to a surprising climax, it benefits solely from J.C. Oates intense and skilled writing style.

The most striking stylistic device is the use of numerous and sudden changes between several narrative levels. Sometimes devoting a full chapter or page on a single scene (ch. 11, when Kelly gets to know the Senator), then again, especially towards the end, quickly skipping from one subject to the other, sometimes in a single sentence: Memories from Kelly's childhood and her time at college, her political background and her family, the evening of the 4th of July at her friend Buffy's, where she gets to know the Senator, their ride in the car, finally the accident and her thoughts while drowning in the vehicle. In the course of the accident it seems to Kelly that "time accelerates to the speed of light". The quick skips between all the different levels of time and place make the reader feel exactly what is going on in Kelly's mind during these "patches of amnesia" that seem to be "spilling into her brain"(all ch. 4, p.10). Her thoughts are all mixed up by the accident, her perception is totally confused. The reader is forced to share her thoughts and feelings.

This is the more surprising as the novel is not written in the 1st, but mainly in the 3rd person, which usually conveys a certain distance between the literary character and the reader. On the other hand it very clearly shows Kelly's detachment from the happenings, her shock caused by the accident. There are, however, repeated "breaks" in this 3rd person narration from the very beginning (ch1, p.3 "Am I going to die? Like this?", repeated on p. 48, or on p. 69 "I'm here. I'm here."), which seem to be moments of awful consciousness between long seconds of flashback-memories and unconscious thoughts.

Those little ellipses, mostly in italics, reoccur throughout the book and give the reader direct insight into Kelly's mind. They are key-words or key-sentences like her wondering "Am I ready?" (e.g. p.59, p.132), or her perception of time; her disbelief ("This can't be happening!" (p.33, p.64) which in the course of the accident is turned into denial ("This isn't happening!" p.47) and later is confused by her mind into "It had not happened yet." (p.143).

Other keywords are thoughts which come into her mind involuntarily. They are quotations from some moments in her life, like the "little angel-bee" (p.119, p.143), a pet name of hers, the assurance "you know you`re someone's little girl" (p.16, 45, 58 ... ), the "white anklet socks" (p.119, 143, 154) which figure in her flashbacks from the past, or the "American girl" (e.g. p.18) who "loves life" (e.g. 149), slogans that show her identification as a young American with a positive attitude to life, who can have an affair if she wants to and controls her life.

A very effective motif is Kelly's forlorn feeling of dying next to a total stranger (p.27 "Virtual strangers", "Kelly had no name to call the driver", p.28 "You would not choose to (...) die (...) in a sinking car, with a stranger."), later on even sometimes forgetting his name (p.75).

Another stilistic element which helps creating the intense atmosphere of Kelly's thoughts are the long, unstructured sentences, which go on for nearly a whole page sometimes. They consist of numerous short sentences linked toghether, sometimes separated by commas (p.135 "Buffy said..."), sometimes not (p.143 "She saw herself defiantly running...)". A good example is on pages 149-150 ("And there was his anxious face...)", where there are first commas between the single sentences, which disappear later, as if Kelly's thoughts would speed up with panic. During those last seconds, her mind is in such a confusion, that in one instant she is still fighting against the rising water and in the next, without a full stop or even a comma, her thoughts are in the past again and she is "hugging (...) Buffy" (p.148)

The last few chapters are indeed the most interesting. In chapter 25 already, there is twice the key-sentence of the "black water" which ,,filled her lungs, and she died.". This gives the reader, and perhaps also Kelly herself, the certainty that she is going to die. But still she won't believe it, with a "No: (...)" her thoughts return to the past, until the key-motif occurs again, in chapter 31, on p.138. This time, too, she can escape the truth with a "No"; in her mind, "It had not happened yet" (p.143).

In chapter 32 she has flashbacks from her childhood (p.143 "in her little white anklet socks", "Who's this! Who's this! Little angel-bee `Lizabeth") and she still denies to herself that she is lost (p.143-144 "That was so. (...) She saw that. There was no mistake. Yet at the same time she was explaining (...) he had not abandoned her to die in the black water."), desperately repeating to herself, like a prayer, that "he had not kicked her, he had not fled from her. He had not forgotten her.", trying to believe herself. She looks at her "absurd pink-polished nails, now broken, torn", determined to fight death, though deep inside she probably knows it is in vain.

At this critical situation there is a break in the narration and it changes to the Senator's point of view. There were actually some lines in a preceding chapter (ch.29, p.125 + 126) which were written from his point of view, but then the reader could not quite identify them as his thoughts. This caesura fulfills several important tasks: It does not only tell the reader that the Senator has survived the accident (which was known already as the novel is based on facts) and leaves Kelly at the beginning of her last seconds, it also gives the reader some insight Kelly will never have (p.148 "But none of this Kelly Kelleher knew or could know"). The Senator's cynical reaction on escaping the car is denying every responsability, towards himself (p.144 "...had not abandoned her") as well as towards others ("she grabbed at the wheel and the car swerved off the road"). He is afraid of possible consequences for himself and his career (p.144 "in terror of being discovered", p.145 "if anyone saw him?", "and if never elected president of the United States after all? And if cast down in shame and mockery of his enemies?"). His only being afraid of ,,shame" and ,,mockery" after having caused the death of a girl clearly shows his real character. His reaction lets all hopes the reader has cherished of Kelly being rescued, how irrational they may have been, come to an end.

At this point, the narration changes back to Kelly and her fight. Again there is the motif of the black water filling her lungs, but she escapes by a mere physical reaction of "coughing and choking" out the water. She is in a state of utter confusion, her mind torn between flashbacks of the past (p.149 "And, yet, had it happened?") and consciousness (p.149 "She was drowning, but (...) she meant to put up a damned good fight."). She has visions of the Senator coming back to rescue her (p.149 "And there was his anxious face...") and has yet more flashbacks (p.150 "I want to live, I want to live forever!" while jogging).

At one point she is back in reality, already "swallowing the black water in quick small mouthfuls" (p.151), followed by flashbacks to her early childhood ("the little white anklet socks"). More and more her last moments of consciousness (p.152 "the black water splashing into her mouth (...)" melt into her visions and flashbacks, everything in her mind seems mixed up. She sees the Senator, seems to get out of the water and even argues that "If I can see it <the moon>, I am still alive", and is finally reunited with her family. Like one falls asleep slowly, from reality into dreams, Kelly is gliding away from the water, she dies.

Excerpt out of 3 pages


Oates, J. C. - Black Water - Stylistic Devices
14 Points
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
351 KB
Oates, Black, Water, Stylistic, Devices
Quote paper
Ursula Meyer (Author), 2001, Oates, J. C. - Black Water - Stylistic Devices, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/102391


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Oates, J. C. - Black Water - Stylistic Devices

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free