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"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
Transcript of "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
First published: 1966
Type of plot: Allegory
Time of work: A summer Sunday during the 1950’s
Locale: A suburban community in the United States
Themes and Meanings
On a literal level, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is a spine-chilling tale of rape and murder with a plot carefully controlled to create suspense.
On a figurative level, it is an allegory of lost innocence, the screen door symbolizing the fragile threshold between childhood dreams and adult experience, between romantic illusions of love and the brutal reality of adult sexuality.
Connie’s “friend” turns out to be a “fiend”; her vague dream-lover arrives masked in the familiar trappings of her world, only to reveal the face of lust and violence beneath the false facade.
Style and Technique
Oates’s masterful mixing of literal and figurative, psychological and allegorical levels makes “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” a powerful and fascinating story.
This mix is particularly evident in her depiction of both Connie’s and Arnold’s double identities. Connie carefully pulls her sweater down tight when she leaves home:
“Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home.”
Arnold stuffs his boots in order to appear taller and more attractive or perhaps to hide the cloven feet of his satanic self.
In Connie’s action, the reader recognizes the adolescent beginning to break away from her family and to test the powers of her emerging sexuality. In Arnold’s, the reader sees the devil’s traditional role as arch-deceiver and seducer.
On a still deeper psychological level, Arnold Friend is the subconscious nightmare version of Connie’s waking desires and dreams, erotic love as her sister June might suppose it, not “sweet and gentle” as promised in Bobby King’s songs.
Allegorically viewed, Friend brings the vehicle that will lead Connie to the “vast sunlit reaches” of the future, a metaphor that expresses the vagueness of her dreams while also representing an unknown — attractive, perilous, and as inevitable as death.
The Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates
Pseudonym: Rosamond Smith
Born: June 16, 1938; Lockport, New York
"Every Word Counts..."
"From the first line [...] to the last, [...] this is a story in which every word counts."
Barstow, Jane M. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?." Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition (2004): 1-3. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.
33, 19, 17
There have been few writers to match Joyce Carol Oates for sheer numbers — her novels, plays, short stories, and poems appear to multiply by themselves on library shelves.
Oates consistently supplies a product of the highest quality, dense with meaning and filled with beautiful words and full-blown characters.
As a writer and as a teacher, Joyce Carol Oates has collected numerous and varied prizes and honors.
Among them are O. Henry Awards throughout the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s, twelve Pushcart Prizes, the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1968), the National Book Award for 1970, and the Lotos Club Award of Merit (1975). There are many others.
She has also been the recipient of eight honorary degrees.
Connie, the fifteen-year-old protagonist
Arnold Friend, her demon-lover
Ellie, Arnold's companion
June, Connie's sister
The world in which Connie lives is dominated by Hollywood, popular music, shopping plazas, and fast-food stands.
For Connie and her friends, evenings spent with a boy, eating hamburgers, drinking Cokes, and making out in a dark alley seem like heaven, filled with promises of love sweet and gentle, “the way it was in the movies.”
Clearly, Connie’s parents do not understand the significance of her adolescent daydreams and activities.
Her mother constantly nags at her for spending too much time in front of a mirror and for not being as steady and reliable as her twenty-four-year-old, unmarried sister.
Her father appears as uninvolved in her life as the other fathers who drop off their daughters and friends at the local hangout never question their evening’s activities when they pick them up.
One hot summer Sunday, Connie chooses to remain at home alone while her parents and sister go to a barbecue at an aunt’s house.
Suddenly an old "jalopy, painted a bright gold” comes up the driveway. Her heart pounding, Connie hangs on to the kitchen door as she banters with the two boys in the jalopy, who invite her for a ride.
The driver, Arnold Friend, saw her at the drive-in the night before and had “wagged a finger and laughed,” saying “Gonna get you, baby” in response to Connie’s smirk.
At first, Connie is tempted by his invitation; she “liked the way he was dressed, which was the way all of them dressed: tight faded jeans stuffed into black scuffed boots, a belt that pulled his waist in and showed how lean he was.”
His clothes, his talk, and the music blaring from his radio are all familiar to her.
Then she begins to notice that he seems much older than her friends and that he knows too much about her, even where her parents are and how long they will be away from home.
As the story proceeds, Arnold moves closer to the porch but promises not to come in the house after Connie.
Apparently, he wants her to join him of her own free will.
His tone becomes more menacing, nevertheless, even as he promises to love her:
“This is how it is, honey: you come out and we’ll drive away, have a nice ride. But if you don’t come out we’re gonna wait till your people come home and they’re all going to get it.”
With this threat to her family, Connie begins to lose control; sick with fear, she calls for her mother and starts to pick up the phone, then puts it back on Arnold’s command.
“That’s a good girl. Now you come outside,” he continues, and she slowly pushes the door open, “moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited.”
aRnold fRiend = an old fiend
On a still deeper symbolic level, Connie’s experience itself becomes a metaphor for American naïveté and vulnerability.
In this story, as in much of her fiction, Oates explores the
American popular culture
and the ways in which it
leaves her characters defenseless against powerful forces of evil
For Connie, “the bright-lit, fly-infested restaurant” is a “sacred building” and the omnipresent music is like a “church service” always in the background, something on which she can depend.
As if to parody Christian symbolism, Oates describes the “grinning boy,” holding a hamburger aloft, which caps the bottle-shaped restaurant.
It is here that Connie finds the “haven and blessing” otherwise missing in her life.
Oates shows her readers how teenagers have created a strict code of dress, behavior, and language to fill the void left by the absence of conventional religion and adult authority.
The inauthenticity of such a code is revealed by Arnold’s ability to fake it so easily; its impotence, by Connie’s absolute inability to defend herself against his attack.
This gets pretty deep
In this story, Oates pays special attention to the mother-daughter relationship and the lack of meaningful communication between them.
Their bickering, as described by Oates, is itself an empty ritual: “Sometimes, over coffee, they were almost friends, but something would come up — some vexation that was like a fly buzzing suddenly around their heads — and their faces went hard with contempt.”
In the end, it is her mother for whom Connie cries; her last thought before she finally pushes open the door is that she will never see her mother again.
As she crosses over into the “vast unknown,” Connie shuts the door on childhood.
Oates seems to suggest that if either one of them had made the effort to communicate, Connie might have remained safely a child until old enough to choose the future.
Ironically, it is Arnold Friend who promises to teach Connie about “love,” typically the mother’s role, while threatening to kill the entire family if she does not permit him to do so.
Though the story is heavy with thematic significance and symbolism, it also reads quickly because of Oates’s skill in building suspense.
Each stage of Arnold Friend’s unmasking and Connie’s resulting terror and growing hysteria is carefully delineated.
When Arnold first arrives, Connie cannot decide “if she liked him or if he was just a jerk.”
The reader becomes more suspicious than she does as she notices his muscular neck and arms, his “nose long and hawk-like, sniffing as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up and it was all a joke.”
Gradually, Connie realizes that all the characteristics she “recognizes” in him — dress, gestures, the “singsong way he talked” — do not come together the way they should.
Her heart begins to pound faster when she questions his age and notices that his companion has the face of a forty-year-old baby.
Worse yet, Arnold seems to possess preternatural vision to the point of describing all the guests at the family barbecue, what they are doing, how they are dressed.
As he states more explicitly what he wants from her, Connie’s terror and the story’s suspense mount.
When Arnold promises not to enter the house unless Connie picks up the phone, the reader may recall that the devil as evil spirit cannot cross a threshold uninvited.
At this point, the end seems inevitable; in her presumed murderer’s words, “The place where you came from ain’t there any more, and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out.”
It is no wonder that “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is the most frequently anthologized and critically acclaimed of Oates’s short stories.
Its popularity is ensured by the famous Oates blend of violence, sex, and suspense; its place in the American literary canon by its thematic importance, Oates’s frightening vision of the contemporary American inability to recognize evil in its most unoriginal forms.
Though many critics have complained about the gratuitous violence of Oates’s work and seem to distrust her extraordinary fluency (she produced more than thirty-five volumes of stories, novels, and literary criticism in her first twenty years as a published writer), this particular story demonstrates her ability to achieve tight compression and careful stylistic control.
From the first line, “Her name was Connie,” to the last, “’My sweet little blue-eyed girl,’ he said, in a half-sung sigh that had nothing to do with her brown eyes,” this is a story in which every word counts.
It's About a Girl Meeting a Serial Killer/Rapist
It's Just a Dream!
Washes her hair, falls asleep...dream begins.
Connie Meets the Devil
Arnold Friend = Satan, the Devil, a demon
Dreamy state of things being described
Voices seem to match up with the radio personality.
She was always daydreaming, being dragged back to reality
Dreaming about the boy she saw at Drive In
Cloven foot: Doesn't fit into boots
Snake like eyes, sharp teeth and nails
ARNOLD FRIEND - R/R = ArN OLD FrIEND
Sees the future...Sees what is happening miles away
"Do you know who I am?"
Supernatural (sign in the air, disappears)
Flies all around
Ellie : Beezlebub
Girl doesn't know about Love/Lust (only in songs)
Learns the hard way.
Stalks at restaurant/Watches family leave