Characters Analysis of Joyce Oates’ “Four Summers”


In the story, Sissy is the protagonist and the narrator. In the first summer (or the first episode of the story), Sissy is a child, accompanying her parents and brothers at a tavern near an unnamed lake. She is dependent on her parents because she is quite young. For example, she cannot take a boat ride, unlike the older children and her two brothers. Her perception is that of a four or five-year-old child. She is very attentive and alert.

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For instance, she listens to e dialogue between her parents and their former neighbors as they take a beer. She recites some phrases. For example, she says that they said “… Duane Dorsey was a nut and always getting into trouble…” (Johnson 221). Besides, Sissy is analytical and considerate. For instance, as she watches the other children stone a blackbird on the lake, she is aware that the bird will soon be dead. She thinks that the bird will die, which means that everything, including people, will die.

“I am not going to the lake for a boat ride. However, my brothers Jerry and Frank play by themselves. They have taken a boat ride with other children. Suddenly, a black water bird flows on the lake water. One of the children starts poking the blackbird with a stick. Others, including my brother Frank, start throwing stones at it. I am watching them as they throw stones. I am standing at the front of the lake. If that waterbird dies, then everything else will die…” (Oats and Showalter 243).

In the second episode, Sissy has grown older, but she is still dependent on her parents. Her mother has another child named Linda. More importantly, she can compare events and people and realize their differences and similarities (Showalter, Baechler, and Litz 232). For instance, she looks at her brother Jerry and realizes that “…he looks like my day, especially the way his eyes look…” The brothers have also matured and are less dependent on their parents. In fact, she says that the brothers have their own opinions, with Jerry saying that he does not like his father because “…all that he does is to drink”. She describes the vulgar behavior and language of the people at the tavern. Besides, she realizes the ills and norms of society. For example, she hates her father’s drinking behavior.

“…Dad is now pouring beer into his glass. He spills some of it. I love him. I wish I could turn away from him. I hate to be in this place…” (Oats and Showalter 284).

In the third summer, Sissy is about 14 years old. She seems to be mature, but the impact of adolescence is affecting her behavior. For example, she hates to take care of her younger sister. She also develops bad attitudes towards everyone. She appears to be sarcastic, hateful, and self-conscious. For example, she is concerned with her body and appearance. She has also developed sexual emotions towards men but is still afraid. For example, she flirts with a young man at the tavern, kisses him before running from him.

In the final summer, the narrator is mature, having attained 19 years. She is also married and pregnant. In this episode, she thinks about her life, past, and future. She wonders whether her husband will make the same errors and decisions made by her late father. For example, she is afraid that he may get into drinking. Also, she recognizes the man who had kissed her, but she cannot tell her husband, which indicates that she is no longer dependent.

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Sissy’s Father (Harry)

Sissy’s father is a caring parent, always taking his family out for leisure. He takes his family out for fun at the tavern while he enjoys drinks with his wife and friends. Nevertheless, he is always drinking, even when the children are around. It is worth noting that he exposes his children to alcohol because he lets them play around as parents and other adults enjoy their drinks (Pearlman 39). In addition, he exposes his children to the rough side of society, where vulgar language and behaviors are common. Finally, he dies in the workplace due to an accident, which was most likely caused by his drinking behavior.

Sissy’s Mother

As the father, Sissy’s mother takes care of her children and family. For example, she makes sure that her family is around when she goes for leisure. Besides, she is still in her productive years because she gives birth to Linda a few years after the first summer. However, she is also affected by alcoholic culture. She takes beer with her husband and friends but declines when she is taking care of the small baby.


Jerry is Sissy’s older brother. He physically resembles his father, but the behaviors are different. For example, he hates his father because “…all that he does is to drink…” Like Sissy, he is also concerned with his surroundings and the people around him (Pearlman 39).


Frank is probably older than both Jerry and Sissy. He is observant but likes to do what others are doing. He likes games and leisure. For instance, when the other children start throwing stones at the bird, he takes part and enjoys the game. In addition, in his late adolescence, he takes part in car racing and has broken his dependency on the parents.

Duane Dorsey

Dorsey is the family’s former neighbor before their relocation. Although he is not present in any of the four summers, he is represented in dialogue. He seems to be a rough person, always breaking the law and facing arrests and charges. For example, he was recently arrested for breaking his mother-in-law’s windows.

June Dieter

Like Dorsey, Dieter is mentioned in dialogue. She is said to have a dangerous disease and might be on her way to death.

Works Cited

Johnson, Greg. Joyce Carol Oates: A study of the short fiction. New York, NY: Twayne Publishers, 2004. Print.

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Oates, Joyce Carol and Elaine Showalter. Where are You Going, where Have You Been? New Brunswick, NY: Rutgers University Press, 2002. Print.

Pearlman, Mickey. American Women Writing Fiction: Memory, Identity, Family, Space. New Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2011. Print.

Showalter, Elaine, Lea Baechler and Walton Litz. Modern American Women Writers. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2012. Print.

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StudyCorgi. "Characters Analysis of Joyce Oates’ "Four Summers"." March 15, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Characters Analysis of Joyce Oates’ "Four Summers"." March 15, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Characters Analysis of Joyce Oates’ "Four Summers"'. 15 March.

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