“Shopping” by Joyce Carol Oates is based on the problems of a mother daughter relationship that are exposed during their annual shopping trip. Mrs. Dietrich is a middle age woman whose marriage collapsed due to betrayal by her husband. Mrs. Dietrich’s only outlet for giving and receiving love is through her seventeen-year-old daughter Nola, who she desperately wants to have intimate relationship with. Mrs. Dietrich tries to preserve Nola’s childlike image, fearing to that Nola would not need her when she becomes an adult. Her overwhelming fear of loosing the love of Nola is causing her to be more of a friend than parent. Mrs. Dietrich unwillingness to enforce parental guidelines combined with lack of communication is pushing Nola away, and could ruin their relationship.
Mrs. Dietrich was twenty nine years of age when she finally got pregnant with Nola. Mr. and Mrs. Dietrich had been trying to get pregnant for nearly five years. The new found happiness suddenly brought them closer that they had been. Never before did the Dietrich’s have such intimate feelings towards each other. In awe of his wife’s beauty, Mr. Dietrich got Mrs. Dietrich a reproduction of a famous painting. The painting was of a radiantly beautiful pregnant woman, this would a token of appreciation for being pregnant with their child. Theses acts of kindness and intimate feelings for each other would be their last.
Even before Nola was born, Mrs. Dietrich knew she would try to live vicariously through Nola, but this time her life would be perfect “It would be herself again, reborn and this time perfect” (262). Nola was born and by the age of eleven she grew up to be a quite “plain, rather chunky, unhappy child” (261). Nola in her awkward adolescences would say crazy things for attention. For instance one night at dinner with her parents and some guest, Nola told an offensive story about a black baby getting his nose bit of by a rat. The guests of her parents were shocked by the story and began to make hateful comments about Nola. Mr. Dietrich wasted no time scorning Nola, he told her he was sick of her games and made her go to her room. Nola was heartbroken, she left the room crying and embarrassed. Mr. Dietrich also lashed out on Mrs. Dietrich telling her that she needs to learn how to control her daughter. And with Mrs. Dietrich codependent, unconfrontational habit she couldn’t stick up for herself, and more importantly Nola.
A couple years later Mr. Dietrich moved out and got an apartment downtown. He said it was just a separation, but Mrs. Dietrich knew it meant divorce. The financial arrangement he made with Mrs. Dietrich upon the divorces was generous. Nola got credit cards in her names at all the high end boutiques for her allowance. Mrs. Dietrich would be able to stay the same, unemployed and totally dependent on Mr. Dietrich. One year later, Mr. and Mrs. Dietrich decided to send Nola to boarding school in Maine. Thirty days after Nola left for boarding school, she called her mother to let her know how happy she was. She explained how she loved all the people there, and how she was making many friends. Nola couldn’t wait to tell her mother about a teacher who she loved. Nola made sure to clarify that she meant regular love, not in love, because that would be weird. This was too much to swallow for Ms. Dietrich, as she began to cry. Instead of being happy for her daughter’s new found acceptance and healthy mentor, she felt sorry for herself.
Ms. Dietrich is having a hard time with her daughter gone. Nola’s lack of calling home or writing causes Mrs. Dietrich to ask her friends if it was normal. Her friends tried to reassure her, but Mrs. Dietrich felt that she was forgotten. Mrs. Dietrich is consumed with thoughts of when she was pregnant She thinks about how wonderful it was to have Nola entirely dependent on her. Mrs. Dietrich makes references to how the nine months she was pregnant with Nola was truly the happiest time of her life. Mrs. Dietrich does not to seem to have been happy upon the birth of Nola. Mrs. Dietrich was almost devastated that her pregnancy ended so “abruptly” (263). The mere fact the Nola was no longer in her womb and others were able to enjoy Nola made Mrs. Dietrich jealous.
Mrs. Dietrich’s emotional state is rapidly declining without contact from Nola. Mrs. Dietrich is consumed with her love for her daughter. When she is lonely she feels the need to drink to take the edge off. This lonely drunken state causes Mrs. Dietrich to think about Nola even more. Mrs. Dietrich has almost convinced herself that she is in love with her daughter.
Nola is coming home for eight days which, Mrs. Dietrich very excited. Nola is no longer a little girl. She is a beautiful five foot seven, seventeen year old who weights less than one hundred pounds. Mrs. Dietrich instantly suspects that Nola has an eating disorder, but is afraid to bring up the subject. Mrs. Dietrich can’t wait to go on their annual shopping trip. The shopping trip seems to have sentimental value to Mrs. Dietrich since this is how Nola and she bonded after the divorce.
Finally the day of shopping was here. The girls are headed off on their shopping trip. The day however, was off to a bad start. Mrs. Dietrich keeps thing about how this day has to be prefect; this is Nola’s last day home. Nola is tired and not talking with her mother. This upsets Mrs. Dietrich, she is probably thinking her “private thoughts” (258). Mrs. Dietrich wants to speak with her daughter, yet says nothing, afraid of how Nola will react “They’ve been through all that before” (258).
Upon entrance to the mall Nola and her mother see a homeless woman. Nola is very upset by this. Not because she is in the mall but the horrible reaction people have to her. Mrs. Dietrich seems to be offended at Nola’s mature outlook. Mrs. Dietrich wanted protect to her daughter from the homeless woman, and her daughter wanted to protect the homeless woman.
After hours of shopping and few battles in Mrs. Dietrich’s head the two of them went to lunch. As Mrs. Dietrich drinks her wine holding back questions she desperately wants to ask, Nola light’s up a cigarette. This upsets her mother, but she is unable to say anything. During lunch Nola tries to bring up two separate conversations that are very important to her. One of them was about going to France for a semester of school. Mrs. Dietrich shoots down the conversation instantly. This upsets Nola and she use inappropriate language towards her mother and father. The second conversation the most important of all. Nola wants to know why they don’t “talk about it” (265). Mrs. Dietrich asks if she means France and Nola said no. Once Mrs. Dietrich understood what kind of conversation this was, she avoided answering any Nola’s questions. Even though Nola really wanted talk about “it” (265), that would be too painful for Mrs. Dietrich to handle.
Throughout “Shopping” all Mrs. Dietrich talk about is how bad she feels or how Nola’s distance is affecting her. She talks about their problems, but does not do anything to resolve them. She never wonders how Nola feels, or how any of this is affecting Nola. Mrs. Dietrich is so consumed with the idea Nola might one day stop loving her; it is making her unable to function as a parent. Mrs. Dietrich is codependent woman who determines self worth on how others feel about them. Mrs. Dietrich is the type of woman who has a child for the wrong purpose of having someone to love her. Nola is a child who is coming of age, she needs guidance, and discipline from her mother. Mrs. Dietrich is clearly confused on what a mother’s role really is.