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Joyce Carol Oates: Son of the Morning

Oates has certainly used religion as a theme before but in this novel she goes a step further with Pentecostal religion as the background. The story concerns Nathaniel Vickery. His mother was raped and he is brought up by his grandmother. At the age of five, he experiences the first of his revelations. Over the next thirty years, he becomes the local messiah, a charismatic into whom, he believes, God has entered. The story is told – in the third person – by Nathaniel himself, after his inevitable fall. (Son of the Morning comes, of course, from Isaiah 14:12 and refers to Lucifer, not to Jesus (How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!) Oates tells a fascinating story of the rise of a messiah and all the not very religious paraphernalia that goes with the rise as well as the fall, which shows him losing his powers (including that of sight) and drifting in the wilderness. It is a well written book but, not being religious, I didn’t find it as enlightening as others have.

Publishing history

First published 1978 by Vanguard Press