The certainty of getting on time: the senator

Looking at the Senator, it would largely help to remember Kelly, our easy, traditional readings of her and how their characters define each other in the majority of the novel. It seems that, for the most part of the novel, what Kelly is was what the Senator is not. The senator – politician and lover, as both of that persona, he has beguiled Kelly. She had made an undergraduate study on him, as the politician, and she had nearly sacrificed her life for his love. He has certainty in all the places Kelly does not; he only has deadpan statements where Kelly has disturbed questions and comments. When Kelly said “I think we’re lost, Senator,” he said “This is a shortcut, Kelly. There’s only one direction and we can’t be lost.” In that adventure that was the ride from Grayling Island to Old Ferry, while Kelly felt being lost, the Senator, at the command, was nothing less than sure: “we’ll get there and we’ll get there on time.” How ample is the degree of assertiveness here – first, speaking not only for himself but for both of them, and then forecasting, without falter, not just one but two transpirations (arriving and arriving on time). She was the passenger; he was the one in command, the notoriously fearless one on the driver’s seat.

In the most part, he had embodied the big Other that assigns to Kelly what to desire, but in that crucial juncture when Kelly is to be revived, is to be saved from the depth of the black water, he appeared only to disappear again, only for Kelly to slip of his hands: “But she saw him! – there he was! – suddenly above her and swimming down to wrench open the door at last…so his strong fingers could close about her wrists and haul her up out of the black water at last! At last! Rising together soaring suddenly so very easily weightless to the surface of the water and she slipped free of his hands…” In that most important part, in the part where heroes should have been made, the Senator disappeared. And nothing else followed.

Writing her narrative: the rebirth of Kelly

In that juncture, slipping free of the Senator’s grip, and metaphorically perhaps the grip of the entire Other – her environment, her surroundings, — Kelly once and for all, wrote her own story, proactively get out of the pit and do things by herself.

The last part story emphasizes this – the death of an old Kelly and the rebirth of the edgier, more self-assertive, more independent Kelly:

“as if they had never seen her before in their lives, Kelly, little ‘Lizabeth, as if they did not recognize her running there squealing in expectation in joy in her little white anklet socks raising her arms to be lifted high kicking in the air as the black water filled her lungs, and she died.”

The accident, that event conjured by the idea and image of the black water, womanizing Kelly, killing the girl in her, bringing her into a new life. And the most important transpiration there was Kelly’s act of slipping free of the senator’s hand, her tacit statement, “I can manage to do this alone” – that is her stern accomplishment of what has been repeatedly stated in the earlier parts of the novel, “rehearsing the future, in words,” “never to doubt that you will tell your story (83),” “you love the life you’ve lived because it is yours. Because that is the way you have become. (151)”

This is certainly in contrast with the earlier, speechless Kelly, especially when under the black water, the italics, her suppressed asking for rescue from the senator. We can play around this idea of speech, of voice a bit more here. In #7 of Part 1, Kelly retold how once she accidentally spoke a bit loudly that it offended her uncle and prompted him to say “Miss, you don’t need to shout: I’m not deaf.”  That incident made her more cautious when it comes to raising her voice. Can’t we look at this – raising a voice – to speaking in general? Can we not see this as Oates’ metonymic way of showing how Kelly’s hesitance in raising her voice has eventually led to the demise of that voice, hence, her speechlessness? In any case, what is more notable is that in the end, she regained not just her voice, actually she did not regain something once lost; she gain a new thing. By killing herself, the old, shy Kelly, she reborn herself, free from the black water that nearly sunk her to death, and from the black water that is the blur of expectations and conferrals given by her environment.