Foreshadowing and Selection of Detail in Creating Suspense in Three Girls by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates’ romantic short story “Three Girls” describes how societal rules are meant to be broken. By using foreshadowing and selection of detail, Oates can create suspense throughout the story.

Oates uses foreshadowing to give the readers a sense of suspense. The story is based around the narrator and “you,” who the reader discovers is a friend of the narrator. “I adored and feared you knowing that you’d break my heart, my heart that had never been broken because never before so exposed” (Oates 273).

This quote foreshadows the underlying relationship that is implied between the narrator and her friend. Furthermore, Oates shows foreshadowing when the narrator describes how both girls could spend the rest of their lives: “Which of us would marry, have babies, disappear into ‘real’ life, … could anyone have predicted, this snowy March evening in 1956?” (275). The narrator concludes that no one could have predicted the outcome.

Through this, this readers can assume that they did not have the average lifestyle that society expected.

This heightens the reader’s curiosity and the suspense.

Another way that Oates creates suspense is through a selection of detail. In the introduction of the story, Oates describes the scene where the story takes place: “In Strand Used Books on Broadway and Twelfth … when the streetlights on Broadway glimmered with a strange sepia glow, we were two NYU girl-poets drifting through a warehouse of treasures as through an enchanted forest” (271). By depicting the warehouse as an enchanted forest full of treasures. In this depiction, the reader can assume that there is something magical that is about to happen in the small bookshop.

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Oates progresses the reader’s curiosity when the narrator notices a strange woman: “In a man’s navy coat to her ankles and with sleeves past her wrists, a man’s beige fedora hat on her head … most of her hair hidden by the hat except for a six-inch blond plait” (273). The narrator describes a woman in a disguised, which establishes suspense as the two girls try to discover the true identity of the third woman. When Oates continues to describe the woman, the reader discovers: “this woman was/was not Marilyn Monroe … wholly absorbed in selecting, leafing through, [and] pausing to read books” (273). The reader is left to wonder whether the third woman is Marilyn Monroe or not, and this creates a sense of mystery that furthers the suspense of the story.

Through the use of foreshadowing and selection of detail, Oates creates suspense in “Three Girls.” By using suspense and foreshadowing Oates can create a greater sense of one oneself. The story expands on the true meaning of everyone being able to find their true happiness, even when it is against society’s wishes.

Works Cited

  1. Oates, Joyce C. “Three Girls.” I Am No One You Know. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005. 271-80. Print.

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Foreshadowing and Selection of Detail in Creating Suspense in Three Girls by Joyce Carol Oates. (2022, Jun 19). Retrieved from

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