JOYCE CAROL OATES’ RAPE: A Love Story –The Question of Life After Rape

Amerigo Bonasera wanted his daughter’s rapists to be killed. His faith in the American justice lay shattered after the judge had allowed them to walk free by giving suspended sentences. The great Don Vito Corleone refused to entertain Bonasera’s request saying what he desired was not justice since his daughter still lived.

“Make them suffer, then, as she suffers.”

The Don nodded, after all he was a reasonable man.

But this was a rare error of judgement on the part of the Don. He should have assessed if the rapists represented a threat to the life of the victim after they were freed, and was the victim more vulnerable than ever before? It also brings into question if disproportionate violence can be unleashed in reply to violent crimes?

John Dromoor, an NYPD cop and an ex-Marine, had no such idealistic delusions. A dead cat and late night rounds of victims Teena and Bethie Maguire’s house by hooligans were enough to convince John that the ladies won’t find peace and closure till the rapists lived in their neighbourhood.

His justice was swift and decisive. Means were unimportant, what mattered was the end. The twelve year-old, Bethie, who had witnessed the rape of her mother ( Rocky Point Park, Fourth of July, 1996) and was herself mercilessly beaten, and had silently borne vile threats, slander, media trial and sham of a preliminary hearing- found her contained fury grow into hero-worship and a form of platonic love.

The worst traits of the so-called civilized society come to the fore in the aftermath of rape. Not just the families and well-wishers of the perpetrators, but even neutral observers and public-at-large indulge in victim-shaming with savage zeal. They blame it on her dress, drinking, doping and dub it as ‘voluntary sex, a case of deal gone wrong’ to influence gullible media and through public opinion, the jury. The most disgusting aspect of such abuses is that it is the women closest to perps who hurl them at the victim. Empathy does not come naturally to human beings, selfishness and calumny do.

“Had it coming.

Asked for it.

Everybody knows what she was.”

Teena Maguire was a 35 years old widow with a 12-year old child. That she was raped and both she and her child were brutally assaulted was not quite in question. Yet through their aggressive tactics and by pleading ‘not-guilty’, the highly paid defence lawyer aimed to vitiate the atmosphere against them. Such underhand tactics which make the preliminary hearings so tough and harsh that the victims even dread the prospect of a trial, goes by the euphemism of strategy, but is infact intimidation of the worst kind. This is how the tribe of criminal lawyers prosper. This is what they should be held liable for.

The common reaction to such crimes is that victims start blaming themselves for the decisions in the prelude to the tragedy. Teena also suffered from this soul-sapping thought process.

“Should I have not taken a safer route? Should I have not stayed at my friend’s place overnight? Why was I there where I was at that particular moment?” The victim wishes she could have somehow avoided that place and time. No one has any business to inflict their lust or violence upon anyone else, whatever be the place or time. IS such violence random? Did they become a victims by chance? Could it have happened to anyone else? Would it happened to them on any other day or at any other place?

“How a life is decided. How a life is ended.

Good luck, bad luck. Purely luck.

Hit by lightning, spared by lightning.”

Dromoor understood that “a lawyer is a mouth, like a shark is a mouth attached to a long gut. The business of lawyers is to devour one another”. Courts were arenas where those who practiced law went jaw-jaw  haw-haw at the plight of victims and perps. The judge sat in his chair with studied poise in his “pompous black coat, squat as a fire hydrant.” He was fussy about discipline in his courtroom and was insensitive to boot. He asked the victim to remove her glasses, and despite being told that she suffered from troubled vision and neurological problems, made some lame comment but did not budge. “My partner, and I” he corrected Dromoor, not “My partner, and me”. That was perhaps the moment when the sham became self-evident. “They called them suspects, as if they were suspects only because we said so”. The victims too saw how feeble was the prosecution, how hawkish the defence and how hostile was the judge. One does not expect to be heard in such an environment.

In all of 154 pages, Joyce Carol Oates has perfectly reconstructed the anatomy of an American rape. Her brevity is commendable, her imagery quite evocative. Her movement is subtle. She trusts her readers to get the drift.

“One bright hallucinatory morning in the desert he saw his soul curl up and die like an inchworm in a hot sand.”  Enough to give the sense that this man (Dromoor) was different from others.

“The idea of justice he liked, putting things back to the right. Abstractions like law, conduct, valour in service, eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth were what made sense to him.”

Dromoor liked guns much more than books. The American flag sometimes bought tears in his eyes, not when it limply hung on a side, but when it fluttered in gusts of wind.

This character of Oates solves the moral puzzle of rape. If the victims are to survive the trauma post-rape and to have any chance to begin anew, they need to be freed of fear of reprisals, and must have the satisfaction that their violators have been inflicted  just punishment.

J.C.Oates (b.1938) has been a Pulitzer finalist on multiple occasions. The American writer has published 58 novels, and many collections of short stories and poems. ‘Rape: A Love Story’ is the story of the survival of a rape victim and her daughter. They somehow gather strength to pick broken pieces of their lives and find love again. There would be still be a ‘before’ and ‘after’ the incident, but that ‘after’ is much more important than ‘before’ .This is fiction in service of polemic, and is perhaps its very best example.

#feminism #feministmovement #jcoates #joycecaroloates


#americanfiction #Rape #rapealovestory #Dromoor

#TeenaMaguire #AmerigoBonasera

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