High school, a stepping stone, a coming of age, a time of change, a time of growing and planning, a time of living and enjoying, a beginning for some and an end or transition for others. Joyce Carol Oates Life after High School takes us to a time in the late 1950s to South Lebanon High School and shows us the lives of three people at a time of self-discovery. Zachary Graff, Barbara “Sunny” Burhman and Tobias Shank were three friends and classmates who held secrets and truths between them which no one else in the school or town would discover. It does indeed, at first glance I thought it would be about high school friends in touch, or high school sweethearts later in life, but never had I experienced such a story especially the ending. It is a story that in the end reveals the truth of the suicide of Zachary Graff.
Life after High School by Joyce Oates. (2012, January 24). Retrieved from https://jasmincarlson.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/life-after-high-school-by-joyce-oates/
It might be said that the central character Barbara “Sunny” Burhman serves to focalize the central attention on Zachary, which would in a sense make him the protagonist of the story. She is known as the popular too good to be true Christian girl in the story she was everything the perfect, American 1950’s girl was supposed to be. In the beginning she is referred to be as sunny because her 6th grade teacher told her because of her sunny personality. Zachary is a kind, intelligent but slightly obsessive young man. His character seems very predictable but it turns out that his actions are unpredictable in the end. Tobias really becomes important near the end of the story. He also explains some of the deeds that Zachary did. He never hid nor explained the potential reasons for Zachary’s affections towards sunny.
In the beginning of the story Zachary is a typical awkward intellectual boy belongs to a good family and who fall in love with the perfect girl in his high school. He always tried to spend time with him, dropped off at home and at last brought an expensive diamond engagement ring for her. In reality, his true love is his one friend Tobias, but the constraints of the 1950’s lifestyle led Zachary to believe that sunny was his perfect choice. Up until death Zachary was conflicted. When both Sunny and Tobias reject him, death seems his only way to freedom. In Zachary’s suicide note he takes responsibility and releases all parties of any guilt. This suggests that he did feel constrained by the 50’s lifestyle to the very end.
This story is about three high school students of the 1950’s that students of today can empathize with. Although there still may be other issues of acceptance, the time period in which the story is placed was an especially conservative time. Suicide, homosexuality and women playing important roles in society outside the home were not part of the social norms of the 50’s. Today these issues are much more accepted. Story shows us the interlined lives of three students and the paths taken to free themselves of the entrapment of their uncomfortable 1950’s conventional lifestyles.