Literary Devices in “Dis Mem Ber” by J. C. Oates Research Paper

April 29, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: May 22nd, 2021


The writing of Joyce Carol Oates is known for its mesmerizingly dark and disturbing themes that the author addresses without any hesitation. Often bordering on the public definition of acceptable, Oates’ novels allow dissecting the human nature and revealing the darkness hidden underneath a seemingly cheerful interior of being well-adjusted. By using metaphors as the key literary devices to imbue her stories with new meanings, Oates manages to represent certain objects in a rather gloomy and mysterious light, thus hinting on the theme of evil hiding under the guise of the ordinary.

Methodology: Literary Device Analysis

In order to explore the themes that Oates raises in Dis Mem Ber, as well as the tools that she uses to convey the specified themes, the literary device analysis was utilized. Specifically, the novel was dissected and explored to locate the devices and tools that Oates used to convey her main ideas. In addition, the meaning that each of the devices conveyed and the notions that it established were analyzed. Thus, the intrinsic connection between the themes and the devices that were used to purport them was established.

Findings and Discussion: Literary Devices and Themes

Adopting the literary device analysis, one will realize that Oates has incorporated a range of techniques into her writing in order to depict the evil and violence of the ordinary. The very first chapter of the book sets the mood for the rest of the novel, creating an atmosphere of unease and tension. The literary devices such as metaphor, simile, pun, and symbolism are evidently utilized to foreshadow the horrifying events that will unfold later and, thus serve as the tools for expressing the banality of evil and violence.

Metaphors are, perhaps, the most common tools that Oates incorporates in her novel to depict the evil and violence of the modern society. The author incorporates a vast array of metaphorical expressions that serve the purpose of exploring the omnipresent evil and violence in the modern society. For instance, the turquoise necklace that the mother of Jill, the protagonist, receives as a gift from Rowan Billiet, the main antagonist, seems to be a rather innocent gift. However, afterward, it is explained that the necklace has strings of hair in it (Oates 63). Thus, the necklace becomes a metaphor for abuse, violence, and evil that lurks under the guise of attention and affection.

In addition, Oates uses foreshadowing profusely in Dis Mem Ber creating the sense of unease and the impression of invisible danger closing on the characters. For instance, when describing Rowan Billiet, Oats mentions that he would be “in charge of the bingo game,” which can be interpreted as the foreshadowing for Billiet’s further fate (Oates 49). In the specified case, the literary device appears to be twofold, with “the bingo game” seemingly referring to life, in general, and thus representing a metaphor, yet later proving to be a false clue and, thus being an instance of very smart foreshadowing.

Thus, leading to the false assumptions of the character surviving, with the readers’ expectations being subverted eventually, foreshadowing is utilized as the means of stressing the evil of the modern society. In addition, the very term “bingo game” can be seen as the metaphor of the need for the characters to escape the clutches of an insane murderer and, in a broader sense, the fight for survival as part and parcel of the modern cruel world. Thus, Oates once again points to violence and evil as inescapable elements of the contemporary reality.

In order to stress the increasing unease and tension within the narrative and between the characters, Oates also utilizes a simile. For instance, at the very beginning of Dis Mem Ber, the author compares the smile on the face of the antagonist to the one of a doll, using a simile as the means of expressing the building sense of suspicion and fear (Oates 9). Likewise, a simile is used in the very next sentence to describe a blacktop road as a “simmering mirage” (Oates 9).

In fact, the specified case also represents a very peculiar intersection of the two literary devices combined into one, with the mirage embodying the uncertainty and threat that is lingering in the lead character’s life.

However, by far the most important device that is used in the novel only once and nonetheless manages to produce an earth-shattering effect, eliciting utter horror in readers is symbolism used in the very title. Ironically enough, the specified approach is never repeated anywhere else in the story, allowing the reader to delve into reading without knowing the context of the title and came to the horrific realization later.

It could be argued that the specified technique also fits the definition of a visual pun, which in itself is regarded as a rather lowbrow type of literary techniques. One may wonder why an author of Oates’ caliber would use a trope so well-trodden and tired in her novel, let alone in the title. However, a closer look at the specified literary device will reveal that Oates utilizes it intentionally to juxtapose the mundane and the horrific, at the same time proving that the two can coexist in the modern society.

Indeed, in the title, the idea of a visual pun as a very naïve approach toward the symbolic representation of the content of the novel collides with the underlying dark symbolism of the title, thus creating a conflict. The seeming incompatibility of the specified approach produces the effect that borders shock and immediately persuades the reader to pay attention to the narrative. As a result, the use of literary devices contributes to the portrayal of the evil underbelly of the mundane environment. By incorporating the literary devices such as a simile, a metaphor, a pun, and symbolism into her novel, Oates helps the reader to see the evil that lurks in the everyday setting and the violence that permeates it.


By using literary devices such as metaphor, simile, pun, foreshadowing, and other tools, Oates renders the idea of evil and violence as inseparable parts of the contemporary society. The author addresses the themes of violence and evil by imbuing the elements of everyday life with hidden meanings and outlining the way in which the characters speak, think, and behave. The similes also serve their purpose of establishing the elements of the evil that lurk in the mundane lives of citizens, whereas the titular pun makes the readers’ spines crawl with fear. Oates builds a world in which the tiniest hints indicate the presence of evil, yet she also leaves a glimpse of hope for the protagonist, allowing the story to instigate social change.

Work Cited

Oates, Joyce Carol. “Dis Mem Ber” and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense. The Mysterious Press, 2017.

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