Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been - English - Research Paper

1365 words - 6 pages

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
In certain cases, especially in one of Joyce Carol Oates most renowned pieces of writing,
you’d wish you had never left home. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is a
modern classic short story written by Joyce Carol Oates. Oates decided to dedicate the short
story to Bob Dylan after hearing his song, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. His song was Oates
inspiration to the most anthologized of all of her works, based on a real-life serial killer in the
1960’s, Charles Schmid. Oates modeled her realistic story after the real people and events, into a
powerful imaginary work of fiction (Quirk 413). Oates purpose was for the reader to be able to
identify the parallels between the magazine reports of the real life criminal and her story
representing the death of an American Dream (Quirk 413.)
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is centered around a fairly ordinary
fifteen-year old protagonist on the edge of adulthood, named Connie. While Connie is in search
of finding her place in the world, she often challenges her parents, but mainly her mother. She
scolds her mother for always being in favor of her older sister’s side, June. Connie’s mother was
pretty like she was once upon a time, but is no longer, which leads to feelings of envy and hatred
toward’s her daughter’s conceitedness. One thing Connie enjoyed that her mom didn’t object to
was going to the shopping plaza with her sister June and her girl friends. The father of one of
Connie’s best girl friends would drive the girls three miles to town and drop them off where they
could walk through the stores, or go see a movie. Like a usual teenager, she loves pushing things
to the limit. Sometimes Connie and her friends would cross the highway to go to a drive-in
restaurant where older kids hung out. One summer night she is out with some of her friends at
the drive-in restaurant and catches the eye of a boy sitting in a gold Jalopy with the letters 33,19,
and 17 on the side of his car. Oates never clarifies the code’s meaning or significance, but Arnold
Friend does announce that the number “are a secret code” (Hurley 62). Their eyes meet only
meet for just a moment, then Connie leaves and doesn’t see the boy again for the rest of the
The following Sunday afternoon her parents and sister leave the house to go to her Aunt’s
barbecue. Connie’s mother allowed her to stay home, so she stayed back to wash her hair and
listen to the radio. She was in her room when she heard a car rolling up the long gravel driveway,
but she knew it couldn’t be her family back so soon. She peered out the window in her bedroom
to see the gold jalopy with two teenagers inside. She walked down to screen door in the kitchen
to meet the driver, whom introduced himself as Arnold Friendly and his passenger Ellie. Connie
suddenly realizes Arnold Friendly was the same person she had locked eyes with the night before
at the drive-in restaurant. His companion Ellie was listening to a transistor radio with the same
radio station she had on before they pulled up. Friend believes music is sexual currency and a
way of breaking the ice with Connie by discussing a famous singer she admired (Urbanski 201).
Arnold asked if she would like to go for a ride, and he appeared to have already known that her
parents were away at her aunt’s barbecue. She refuses to go for a ride, and starts to realize
something strange about the two guys. Arnold and Ellie both looked much older than eighteen
like they claimed to be, but rather in their thirty’s or forties. Connie is suddenly haunted by a
cold, horrible dizzy feeling. As Connie and Arnold continue to converse, her fear grows rapidly,
and Arnold gradually reveals his power over her (Winslow 264). As Arnold gets more hostile and
persistent about her leaving the house, he tells Connie he knows all about her and her family, and
that he is meant to be her lover. The confident sexual directness of Friend was shocking and
completely opposite of the type of love Connie dreamt of before Arnold pulled into the driveway
(Quirk 415). Connie had been daydreaming of the type of love that was, “sweet, gentle the way it
was in the movies and promised in songs” (p.147). Connie stands up to Arnold by saying she
would call the police, but Arnold threatens to come into the house and bust through the screen
door if she decides to touch the phone. Many strange statements and threats are made, and
Connie finally decides to run inside and pick up the phone. She freezes once she makes it to the
telephone, and suddenly collapses to the floor out of shock. When she happens to recover, Arnold
is standing in the doorway and demands Connie to put the phone back on the hook. At the end of
the story, Connie realizes she has no choice but to walk out the door and go for a ride with
Arnold, frightened by what the future might bring.
The story is composed of static characters, Connie shows the erratic behavior and
confusion of a normal teenage girl into the transition of womanhood. She spends a lot of her
energy maintaining two separate personalities: one personality for her family, and another when
she is out with her friends (Winslow 263). Always fantasizing about the type of love she hears
about on the radio, leads to the conclusion that she is a hopeless romantic. At the end of the story
Connie realizes she doesn’t have any control over her own life. Arnold Friend is first
characterized as a boy “with shaggy black hair, in a convertible jalopy painted gold”. Later on in
the story the reader and Connie both find out he’s much older, and certainly not a boy. Once
Arnold’s attempt at being romantic doesn't work, he threatens Connie and her family. She finally
realizes how serious the situation she’s in is, and Arnold is clearly revealed as a psychopath who
uses manipulation and forceful behavior to reel in Connie to go for a ride against her will.
Oates is highly known for the amount of symbolism found in the short story. One symbol
referring to the music and how it relates to each scene and event, instead of the music just setting
the mood. Another important symbol is to equate the devil himself with the character Arnold
Friend (Coulthard 505). He is slowly revealed to the reader and Connie as very dangerous, and a
constant temptation. Oates’s very well written short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have
You Been” can be looked at overall as a battle between good and evil. The suspense of the story
is quite overwhelming. The short story can be interpreted many different ways and especially the
ending considering the story is open-ended. The overall purpose of the short story was that Oates
most likely wanted to inform and warn the reader of Arnold Friend’s in this world. Their horrific
evilness isn’t confined to the just the literary dreamworld (Coulhard 505).
Works Cited
Quirk, Tom. "A Source for 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'." Studies in Short
Fiction, vol. 18, no. 4, Fall81, p. 413. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?
Hurley, C. Harold. "Cracking the Secret Code in Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have
You Been?'." Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 24, no. 1, Winter87, p. 62. EBSCOhost,
Winslow, Joan D. "The Stranger Within: Two Stories by Oates and Hawthorne." Studies in Short
Fiction, vol. 17, no. 3, Summer80, p. 263. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/
Urbanski, Marie Mitchell Olesen. "Existential Allegory: Joyce Carol Oates's 'Where Are
You Going, Where Have You Been?'." Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 15, no. 2,
Spring78, p. 200. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?
Coulthard, A.R. "Joyce Carol Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" as Pure
Realism." Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 26, no. 4, Fall89, p. 505. EBSCOhost,

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