112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Everywhere Broken Glass: Attraction, Abjection, and the Haunted Self in Joyce Carol Oates’ “Haunted"

Trista Payte, California State University, Northridge

This paper will explore the ways in which Joyce Carol Oates’ “Haunted” utilizes the traditional gothic trope of the haunted past to explore the ways in which heteronormative pressure can create an abjection of non-normative sexuality, but cannot provide an escape from the ghost of desire left in abjection’s wake. 


In the modern American Gothic text, there is, more often than not, no escape from that which haunts. This common theme is omnipresent within the short story “Haunted” by prolific American author Joyce Carol Oates. The text narrates the mental meanderings of the narrator, Melissa, a woman long separated by time from the anxieties and tragedies of her youth, but nevertheless still heavily preoccupied with them. What exactly is haunting Melissa is never made explicitly clear, because it is not clear even to Melissa herself; however, what is implied is that clandestine events that occurred between Melissa and her friend Mary Lou within the forbidden houses they explored are what Melissa cannot quite overcome. At the heart of this haunting lies the ghost of Mary Lou, who now serves as a signification of Melissa’s inability to fit neatly into the parameters of heteronormativity, an inability which Melissa attempted to abject long ago, but which refuses to leave her at peace. Ultimately Melissa cannot fully rebel against the heteronormative pressures of her world outside the gothic space and so she rejects Mary Lou as abject, thus destroying the liberatory potential she represents. Yet Melissa cannot ever truly escape the desire Mary Lou embodies, as abjection always comes with the recognition of desire, even if it is a desire that frightens and repels. Melissa is driven into abjection when the imaginary borders between what is acceptable and what is not collapse and the abject becomes a true threat to the identity she has accepted as her own. Mary Lou, and Melissa’s feelings toward her, threaten the social system, causing Melissa’s conception of order to be disrupted.