Given the recent much-publicized protests in America about a series of unjustified killings of black individuals at the hands of white policemen, the subject of The Sacrifice couldn’t appear any more prescient. Yet, what Oates shows in her novel is that fear, ignorance and misunderstanding is a constant presence, and is the legacy of racial tension in American society carried throughout the years and multiple generations. The media highlights particular examples of the issue regularly, and this sparks movements of public outcry and protest seeking to gain justice and correct societal imbalances. The Sacrifice traces the way incidents like this transition from the particular to the emblematic; how people at the centre of the incident are turned from individuals into symbols and are made to surrender their unique complexities as human beings; and how facts can be obfuscated for the sake of a “bigger meaning” or to progress personal agendas. Oates has created a gripping, complex story largely inspired by the case of Tawana Brawley, a black teenage girl who was found by a grand jury to have falsely accused six white men of raping her. The Sacrifice memorializes the conflicts, both internal and external, of individuals whose subjective reality is subsumed by their public identity within a movement of social change. 

Read my full review on Bearing Witness: Joyce Carol Oates Studies:

AuthorEric Karl Anderson