Them Author:Joyce Carol Oates Author's Note: — This is a work of history in fictional form--that is, in personal perspective, which is the only kind of history that exists. In the years 1962-1967 I taught English at the University of Detroit, which is a school run by Jesuits and attended by several thousand students, many of them commuting students. It was during this perio... more »d that i met the "Maureen Wendall" of this narrative. She had been a student of mine in a night course, and a few years later she wrote to me and we became acquainted. Her various problems and complexities overwhelmed me, and i became aware of her life story , her life as the possibility for a story, perhaps drawn to her by certain similarities between her and me--as she remarks in one of her letter. My initial feelings about her life was, "This must be fiction, this can't all be real!" My more permanent feeling was, "This is the only kind of fiction that is real." And so the novel them, which is truly about a specific "them" and not just a literary technique of pointing to us all, is based mainly upon Maureen's numerous recollections. Her remarks, where possible, have been incorporated into the narrative verbatim, and it is to her terrible obsession with her personal history that I owe the voluminous details of this novel. For Maureen, this "confession" had the effect of a kind of psychological therapy, of probably temporary benefit; for me, as a witness, so much material had the effect of temporarily blocking out my own reality, my personal life, and substituting for it the various nightmare adventures of the Wendalls. Their lives pressed upon mine eerily, so that i began to dream about them instead of about myself, dreaming and redreaming their lives. Because their world was so remote from me it entered me with tremendous power, and in a sense the novel wrote itself. Certain episodes, however, have been revised after careful research indicated that their context was confused. Nothing in the novel has been exaggerated in order to increase the possibility of drama--indeed, the various sordid and shocking events of slum life, detailed in other naturalistic works, have been understated here, mainly because of my fear that too much reality would become unbearable.
Since then we have all left Detroit--Maureen is now a housewife in Dearborn, Michigan; I am teaching in another university; and Jules Wendall, that strange young man, is probably still in California. One day he will probably be writing his own version of this novel, to which he will not give the rather disdainful and timorous title Them.« less