The Assignation by Joyce Oates

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“Tick” Joyce Carol Oates’ The Assignation is a novel full of interesting short stories. One of the most fascinating stories is “Tick”. “Tick” is a story of an individual woman experiencing a difficult time in her life. One small incident makes her realize what is important in life.
The opening of “Tick” begins with a woman, the narrator, and her husband separating. When the husband calls to reconcile, the narrator responds, “I’m happy here alone—I’ve gotten through the worst of it. Don’t spoil my happiness again” (Oates, 10). The narrator does not mean this, she is just being prideful. After this throughout the story, her husband calls at all hours of the day and night. The narrator stubbornly refuses to talk with him, letting the phone ring on and on.
While asserting her independence, the narrator works in a self imposed isolation. Her intellectual pride keeps her spirits up. Even though she feels bad emotionally, mentally the narrator looks at the separation as a challenge. Her theory is, “Easier, she thinks, to hate yourself that to respect yourself: it involves less imagination” (Oates, 10). It is a challenge to overcome her emotions. By controlling her emotions, she feels in control of every aspect of her life.
To continue her fantasy that she is in control of every aspect of her life, the narrator grooms herself better than ever. For example, she “Puts on lipstick, sometimes even a touch of cologne on her wrist, behind her ear. Pride! She thinks, winking in the mirror. Self-reliance! There you go!” (Oates, 11) The narrator also bathes regularly. The narrator is described as “fastidious about grooming, shampooing her hair every morning when she showers” (Oates, 10). She seemed to control every little detail down to her grooming.
Every illusion the narrator might have had about being in control fades when she discovers a tick in her hair. The tick is on the crown of her head. No matter how hard she tries, she cannot see the tick until grabbing a hand mirror. The narrator gets scared. She hysterically tries to remove the tick. After consulting one of her husband’s old medical books, she decides to use tweezers. The narrator “tries tweezers. Tries repeatedly, a dozen times or more, at the bathroom sink, until the tweezers slips from her numb fingers” (Oates, 13). She eventually comes to the conclusion the tick will not come out unless she gets help from another person.
The narrator’s self reliant attitude crumbles in the face of this little tick problem. She contemplates going to a neighbour or the hospital. Yet, she has not been friendly with the girl next door, so fears rejection. She is scared of going to the hospital, because “what if they laughed at her” (Oates, 13). Her isolation and weakness becomes painfully clear to herself when she comprehends that she is totally alone.
As more time passes, the more frantic the narrator comes. She paces her apartment like an animal. Her fingers are bloody from scratching at her scalp. When her panic reaches a frantic pitch the phone rings. She “heads for it like a sleepwalker, propelled by a rough shove. She foresees a reconciliation, lovemaking both anguished and tender. She foresees starting a child. It’s time” (Oates, 14). The small tick made the narrator talk to her husband. Not only did she talk to her husband, she wanted a full reconciliation and a child. She was tired of being alone.
The narrator started the story with the attitudes of pride, self-reliance, and defiance. Although she was alone, the narrator felt confident. After finding the tick, the narrator realized she needed someone else. The narrator’s attitude is very human. When mad at a spouse or lover, the anger overrides the natural instinct of being with someone. The anger breeds self-reliance and pride. Yet, something silly make humans see they need human contact. The tick made the narrator grasp the concept of needing someone else. The silly argument the narrator and her husband had in the beginning was forgotten. erased by a tick.
Oates, Joyce Carol. The Assignation. New York: The Ecco Press, 1988.