Life After High School
Many people who live a lie will end up in the wrong path. This statement is clearly depicted by Zachary in the story “Life After High School”, by Joyce Carol Oates. In the story, not only was he not able to get what he wanted the most but he also lost everything he had by lying and not being true to himself. He was also weak and could not face the truth about himself.
Barbara Burnham, or “Sunny” as she is commonly called, is one of Zachary’s closest friends in high school. However, she felt uncomfortable being around Zachary because of his feelings for her. He had expressed that he was in love with her but she was not aware that he had to be that way because of society.
At that time, which was the 1950s and 1960s, when the story took place, homosexual people were not readily accepted by society. Even some family members had a hard time accepting this truth about their loved ones. Although people reacted differently, it would still lead to the same thing, which is trouble, for homosexuals. This is why they keep their issues within themselves during that time.
Zachary believed that by expressing his feelings toward Sunny, or any other girl, people would not find out that he was homosexual. Nonetheless, there was still one person who knew the whole truth about his sexuality. Tobias Shanks, who was homosexual as well, knew about Zachary’s true feelings and personality. A few years later, Tobias revealed the truth about Zachary to Sunny when society was ready to accept homosexual people.
On the other hand, Zachary was a very persevering person who did not give up trying to make Sunny like him. He was not “unattractive, still less homely, ugly”(4), but no one found him appealing and he was a “loner” (4). However, he tried to fit into the ‘popular and attractive guys’ category by playing golf. At that time, girls tended to find golf an attractive sport, since it was, and still is a rich person’s sport. But he was not interested in golf at all saying “I have no natural talent for it, and I find it profoundly boring, but golf will be my game” (4). Although he was not into golf, he thought that golf would make him look better in front of Sunny.
Zachary knew that Sunny did not like him and he decided to propose to her even though he already knew the answer to his proposal. “I realize you don’t l-love me, Sunny, at least not yet, but you could wear the ring, couldn’t you? Just wear it ”(9), he said, forcing her to wear the ring, which seemed very unusual. Most people would be upset and get over it when they receive a rejection from their proposal, but Zachary was strong and determined to make Sunny his wife.
Sunny should have realized that something was wrong when Zachary accepted the fact that she did not love him back but still proposed to her and even forced her to wear the ring. But Sunny was too opinionated about God and religion to believe that one person could not possibly become homosexual. Even Zachary doubted himself regarding his sexual preference, which is why he forced himself to someone by getting married believing that he would change when he experiences the married life with a wife.
Zachary chose Sunny to be his wife due to her qualities and personality. First, she was popular in school and everyone adored her for being too kind with people. Zachary knew that no matter what happens, Sunny would never hurt him. The other reason was because she believed in God. “She was not a religious fanatic, but she was a devout Christian… She could convince others” (5). Zachary thought that Sunny could convince him that there is no such thing as homosexual. He started his mission by talking about God’s creatures. He said, “The meaning of life, the future of Earth, whether science or art best satisfies the human hunger for self-expression” (4). He even expressed doubt “whether God exists” (5), in order to stimulate Sunny to fight back and help him get over believing that he was gay.
Everything that Zachary thought about Sunny being his lifesaver turned out to be the opposite because she unconsciously made him end his own life. After Sunny rejected his proposal and not gave him the chance to be normal, Zachary thought that there was no hope for him. He could no longer after another girl, because he could not find a better person than Sunny. Also, he did not want to live a double life anymore and so he took his own life.
In contrast, the death of Zachary did not have anything to do with Sunny. The timing of his life played a great role in his suicide. He did not have the chance to reveal his true sexuality because he was scared. This was also mentioned in his suicidal note. He said, “I, Zachary A. Graff, being of sound mind and body, do hereby declare that I have taken my own life of my own free will and I hereby declare all others guiltless as they are ignorant of the death of the aforementioned and the life” (12). When he “declared all others guiltless as they are ignorant” he did not mean Sunny, but he meant the people who did not accept him for having a different sexual preference than those known and accepted by society. He was scared of society and the people who would judge him and act differently around him after they find out the truth about him. He could not imagine his life being worse than what it was already, which was why he took his life.
Zachary thought that Sunny could be his angel that can help him become “normal” and he relied on her to be the stronger person who can help him. Although he was strong, his fears did not let him demonstrate this ability. On the contrary, it was Zachary who helped Sunny become a better person at the end. It may not seem obvious, but Zachary did have an important role in Sunny’s life. He unconsciously transformed her life forever with his death. It made an impact on Sunny’s life that made her see things in a different way than before. If Zachary’s death did not take place, Sunny would not have learned new things about herself and the world around her.
Because Zachary was used to lying about himself, he was not aware that this decision influenced his life greatly. Although lying was inevitable due to the circumstances in that period of time, it still led him to the wrong path and resulted to fatal actions. If he had not lied about his sexuality and instead made the people around him accept who he really was, then he might have lived to see the changing of times when homosexuals can freely live without hiding from anybody.