Literary Analysis “Life After High School”
The short story, “Life After High School” by Joyce Carol Oates, is set in the small town of South Lebanon, New York in 1959. The first three quarters of the story is the tragic tale of one-sided love where Zachary Graff, the intelligent but socially awkward teenager falls in love with Sunny Burhman, the attractive and popular girl that everyone adores. She rejects his proposal and he can’t take it and decides to take his own life. Later, we find out his real love was Tobias, his one friend. His love for Sunny was his last way to fit in with the norms of society. Oates shows us the intertwined lives of three high school students and the paths taken to free themselves of the entrapment of their uncomfortable 1950s conventional lifestyles.
Barbara “Sunny” Burhman is known as the popular too good to be true Christian girl in the story. She was everything the perfect, all American 1950’s girl was supposed to be. In the beginning of the story she is referred to as ‘Sunny’ because her 6th grade teacher suggested calling her this because of her sunny personality. “Tell you what, boys and girls – let’s call Barbara ‘Sunny’ from now on – that’s what she is” (Oates 512). Sunny’s freedom came by Zachary taking his own life. “The irony had not escaped Barbara Burhman that, in casting away his young life so recklessly, Zachary Graff had freed her for hers” (Oates 518). She drops the name Sunny and just goes by Barbara Burhman. When she goes off to school she excels in college and solely works on academics. She drops all the “Sunny” aspects of her life that trapped her and she became a prestigious teacher and author.
There was no place for an agnostic gay male like Tobias Shanks in a 1950’s small town high school and he is forced to lead his life in secrecy. After Zachary’s death Tobias Shank’s secret is safe from his fellow high school students. Tobias, like Barbara, changes...
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