Salute Your Shorts! "Pumpkinhead" by Joyce Carol Oates

The story can be read in its entirety here: "Pumpkinhead" by Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is one of those authors, where you go in expecting something sick and/or twisted to happen, even if everything is puppies and flowers until the last page. Part of the joy of reading her short stories is hunting for every possible clue as to what the final horror might be.

But this time, strangeness struck on page one, when our widow answers a knock to find a man with a pumpkin in place of his head. Lonely after the death of her husband, she invites him in for a drink, and we find out that he is not a stranger; she knows him as one knows a foreigner, cataloguing his attributes in terms of misprononciations and failures to assimilate. You have to believe that he can sense her disdain; as open as she is to us, these thoughts can not be far from her every action.

In that sense, it functions as a metaphor for hegemonic power - and the dangerous lengths that the powerless might go to obtain some semblance of control.

There is one lingering mystery though - a throwaway line almost: "She was a widow who had caused her husband to be burnt to ashes and was unrepentant, unpunished." The story offers no explanation for this, but I welcome the interpretation of others.

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