The story ‘ Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ is about the fifteen year old Connie who is a girl struggling with her sexuality. The girl tries to be an adult and attractive, but at the same time, she hides her sexual side from her family. These two sides cannot remain separate from each other at all times and collide with each other, which this short story depicts. The main idea in this short story is the sexuality of Connie and her struggle to keep her sexual and non-sexual side separate. The narrative details that contribute to this main idea are firstly Connie acting differently than she does while with her family, which shows that she hides her sexual side, secondly, one of the main characters Arnold Friend, the antagonist and thirdly Connie’s reaction when she is confronted by Arnold Friend, showing that she is far from ready to fully embrace her sexuality.
Firstly, the two sides of Connie, Connie’s nightlife and her every day normal life with her family at home, emphasizes her developing sexuality. When Connie goes out with her girlfriends she shows a side of her that she will never show to her family: “Her walk, which could be childlike and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head; her mouth, which was pale and smirking most of the time, but bright and pink on these evenings out; her laugh, which was cynical and drawling at home—”Ha, ha, very funny,”—but highpitched and nervous anywhere else, like the jingling of the charms on her bracelet.” (Oates 2)
By acting like this she tries to be attractive to boys and in particular older men. This behaviour creates a very distinct contrast that contributes to the story’s main idea. Connie hides her sexuality from her family, where she only makes fun of her sister and has fights with her mother. This indicates that she is ashamed by her sexual side, because when going out Connie exposes her sexuality, behaving differently, hanging out with friends and flirting with boys. Connie tries to cultivate her sexual side but at the same time tries to keep her other side intact, being ashamed and scared to expose her sexuality to her family.
Secondly, Arnold Friend is a narrative detail that also contributes to the main idea of Connie struggling with her sexuality. Arnold Friend is a symbol for the devil. Firstly the short story depicts that he has difficulty with walking: “He almost fell. But, like a clever drunken man, he managed to catch his balance. He wobbled in his high boots and grabbed hold of one of the porch posts” (Oates 11). His boots are also stuffed for no apparent reason. This could indicate, in combination with the other details, that he has hooves.
Secondly his name sounds like ‘an old friend’, a reference to the devil who has befriended mankind first. And lastly, at one moment in the short story his eyes are glowing unnaturally red. All of these details in combination with Arnold his age and him offering her a way out of her current safe life creates a perfect and rather mysterious antagonist. This antagonist, Arnold Friend, is a detail that supports the main idea because Arnold Friend increases the sexuality of Connie and at the same time confronts Connie with her growing sexuality.
Thirdly, Connie’s crying for her mother also contributes to the story’s main idea. This happens when Arnold Friend appears at her house and wants to take Connie out for a ride. Connie does not want to go with him because she is scared by the sudden appearance of Arnold Friend. Above that, he threatens her to come with him. The interesting and mysterious older Arnold Friend becomes violent and threatening towards Connie. Connie tries to fend him off, but she does not succeed and at that moment “she thought, I’m not going to see my mother again. She thought, I’m not going to sleep in my bed again. (Oates 14). In complete panic, she cries, screams and wishes for her own mother, whom she probably yelled at the day before, despising her for putting her in the world. This narrative detail shows how Connie’s sexuality reaches a point where she is no longer able to cooperate with her sexuality and wishes to go back to her safe, nonsexual side.
Connie has two sides. On one side Connie fights with her mother, ridicules her sister and hides her sexuality. On her other side she is only concerned with her sexuality. She goes out with her girlfriends, flirts with boys, wears her clothes differently and behaves more adult to attract the opposite sex. The first detail emphasizes the contrast between the two sides and shows how Connie struggles to hide her sexuality from her family. The second detail is Arnold Friend. Connie is highly attracted to her sexual side.
Arnold Friend, the antagonist, is the perfect symbol for this sexual side and therefore the perfect person to bring instability in Connie her struggle to keep the two sides separate. The third narrative detail shows that Connie is far from ready for the sexual side, especially when this side, in this case Arnold Friend, is a very violent and threatening one. These narrative details all contribute to the main idea, the sexuality of Connie and her struggle to keep the non-sexual and sexual side separate.
Oates, Joyce Carol. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” The Best American Short Stories (1967). Web. 18 Oct. 2012.