By Joyce Carol Oates

A shortened version of “Mr. Rooster” was published in The New York Times Magazine; the full version is published in Bearing Witness: Joyce Carol Oates Studies.

The behavior of barnyard roosters, replicating the more belligerent, strutting-preening-aggressive macho behavior of many male creatures, was a source of endless fascination, and trepidation, to me as a young child growing up on a small farm in the “north country” of western New York State.

First of all, the obvious: our Mr. Rooster was a gorgeous bird. He was a Rhode Island red who (to my affrighted child’s eye) was nearly my height. His tail feathers were spectacular, burnished red- brown, red-maroon, golden-red, that shone in the sun. His comb was erect, and rosy-red; his ruff-feathers were full, and bristling; his scaly-sinewy legs carried him swiftly to his target. His beak was sharp, and its prowess must have been enabled by tough neck muscles, like those of a woodpecker. Most uncanny were Mr. Rooster’s sharp suspicious eyes that squinted at me in the instant before he rushed at me to peck at my bare legs and hands.

For a long time it was my hope that Mr. Rooster would like me, and would not rush to peck me as soon as he saw me. Was this a childish and outlandish wish? Not to be pecked, with no provocation? Let us think of such a wish as the cornerstone of all ethics: in order that I can be protected from your violence, let me try in whatever ways I can, with whatever strategies in my possession, to induce you to “like me.” Let me try to suggest to you what is “good behavior” on your part—that would lessen your propensity to peck at me until I bleed . . . .

Read the full article in Bearing Witness: Joyce Carol Oates Studies

Image: Rhode Island Red Rooster by Vitag


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