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Where Are You Going, Where have You Been Essay

Vanity can be exposed as one’s greatest weakness. “Where Are You Going, Where have You Been”, a short story written by Joyce Carol Oates, describes Connie’s misconception of beauty as her only value, and also the ways in which Arnold Friend, a potential rapist and murderer, manipulates and takes advantage of Connie’s vanity. Connie is a fifteen year old girl who knows the extent to which her beauty can be used to her advantage. Connie “knew she was pretty and that was everything.” However, beauty causes Connie to become vain, and thus gives Connie the misconception that she is more powerful than the boys that are attracted to her. This proves that Connie believes her beauty allows her to transcend above other people, especially boys. As a result, although her beauteous physique can be seen as a benefit to Connie, her vanity proves to become her ultimate weakness and it leads to her demise as seen when Arnold Friend states “I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl”. Connie becomes powerless in Arnold Friend’s presence because he manipulates and takes advantage of her vanity and desire for attention.

Connie’s newly found sexuality as a teen gives her control over the boys she encounters at places such as the “fly-infested” drive in, which she describes as a “haven and blessing they yearned for.” The drive- in, which is “fly-infested” in reality, is the “sacred building” where Connie believes that her beauty can be truly appreciated, whereas at her home, beauty is not acknowledged at all. As a result, Connie further embraces her beauty in order to satiate her need for attention. In her “trashy daydreams,” Connie describes boys as “dissolved into a single face that was not even a face but an idea.”

Connie is more enticed by the idea of having a boyfriend, which shows that she does not care much for the actual boy. This allows Connie to be more easily overpowered by Arnold Friend’s disguise when he first comes over to her house to take her away. This is evident when Connie states that “for a moment [Arnold] wasn’t even in focus but was just a blur standing there against his gold car” This shows that Arnold becomes the concept of a boyfriend to Connie, which is “not even a “face but an idea.” Arnold eventually uses his opportunity as a potential boyfriend to flatter and ultimately overpower Connie in the end.

A desire can undermine one’s ability to guard one’s self from tempting factors. Connie’s lack of attention from her family, especially her father, engenders her desire to be wanted by a man. Her desire for attention is noticed by Arnold Friend, and thus he uses that desire to his advantage. By turning Connie’s desire into her weakness, he uses manipulative tactics to overpower her vain personality. As a teenager, Connie is not able to truly identify herself. Connie is both a daughter and a sister to her family. However, her vanity and superficiality causes her to become a sexual object to boys as well, and thus she is flustered as to which role she can truly identify herself with.

As a result of Connie’s identity crisis, Arnold Friend uses this to his advantage and overpowers Connie by further disorienting her with mixed feelings of both violence and passion. This is evident when Arnold threatens to hurt Connie’s family while attempting to seduce her with flattery, such as “I like them the way you are, honey,” as well. Arnold Friend psychologically manipulates Connie by acting both loving and violent, and this causes Connie to become powerless in Arnold’s presence because she is not accustomed to a males who are so bipolar in emotions towards her. However, there is no rush or urgency as Arnold Friend casually speaks with Connie. This builds up to the suspense up until Connie finally realizes the danger she is in and all she could do is “scream into the phone.”

Although Connie is caught up between the identities of being a daughter, sister, and an object of sexuality, Connie’s basis for these different roles is fixed upon physical appearance. Connie compares her beauty to her mother and sister, and she is always “checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right.” This shows that Connie fundamentally values physical beauty over all other factors. Although a grotesque encounter is foreshadowed when Arnold warns Connie “gonna get you, babe”, Connie allows Arnold to converse with her because she “liked the way he was dressed.” This further proves that Connie is immersed with only the superficial, and this gives Arnold the chance to overpower Connie by becoming what she desires.

Arnold is aware that Connie is primarily concerned with outer appearances, and this allows him to present himself in a desirable manner towards Connie. Connie’s inability to disregard the superficial in time resulted in her failure to recognize Arnold’s disguise, and thus he was able to overpower her. Although Connie thinks of herself as a skilled flirt, she is soon stereotyped as nothing more than the pretty girl. Arnold Friend says, “What else is there for a girl like you but to be sweet and pretty and give in?” This proves that Connie, a girl who values beauty as the greatest worth, will be inevitably overpowered by a man who values and desires beauty as well.

Music is both a shelter and exposure to Connie. Whenever Connie hears music, she feels a “glow of slow pulsed joy that seemed to rise mysteriously out of the music itself.” Connie was all about the “the music that made everything so good.” Music is made into such an important entity that it is almost given its own character. Music symbolizes security and safety, and she even describes the music at the drive- in as “music at a church service; it was something to depend upon.” By comparing it to church, she indicates that music is a form of religion to her. However, music as a religion does not bring Connie salvation. Although music is seen as Connie’s refuge, it leads to her powerlessness in front of Arnold Friend. One way in which Arnold is able to gain Connie’s trust is through his disguise and poor attempt to become like the man in the popular teenage songs.

However, music is also a factor manipulated by Arnold and he uses it against her. Music is a refuge for Connie and Arnold is aware of that. The same song that was playing both Connie’s home and Ellie’s car seemed to “blend together.” The music, car, and outfit is all used by Arnold Friend as a way to become the type of lover described in the teen songs, and Connie falls for this guise and accepts his facade. Arnold’s speech was “spoken with a slight rhythmic lilt and Connie somehow recognized them” Connie believes that she recognizes Arnold only because he seems to have come out from the teen songs she always listens to.

As Connie realizes Arnold is not the idealized man in the songs, she loses recognition of everything that she is familiar with. She says that the “kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before.” This shows that Arnold takes away more than Connie’s music; he takes away Connie’s life and everything else she is familiar with. Connie misinterprets that everything is “the way it was in movies and promised in songs.” She believes that her life will replicate the exact lover and life that is “promised” in the songs, which is just a mere fantasy and delusion in Connie’s case. As a result, Arnold seduces Connie by appearing to be what was promised in the songs, and overpowers Connie by using music as a tool.

Arnold Friend is further able to overpower Connie because she is unsure of her identity that she has at home and “everywhere else that is not home.” Teenagers often are troubled by the fact that they are no longer children, but they are still not yet adults. As a result, Connie embraces the only thing she is certain of; her beauty. By overemphasizing the value of beauty, she becomes vain and self centered. Although she is troubled by her teenage turmoil, her family does not provide her with any moral support or guidance. Like Arnold Friend, her family is not what they seem. Arnold puts on a guise in order to become the idealized man in popular teen songs. In similarity, her parents appear to be typical parents, but they prove to be partly detached from Connie’s need. Connie’s father “was away at work most of the time,” and “didn’t bother talking much to them.”

As a result, Connie needed to seek for male attention elsewhere, such as from the boys at the drive in. Arnold Friend was aware of Connie’s desire for attention, especially from males, and thus used it to his advantage to overpower her. Even her mother seems to not be concerned about Connie’s desire for attention. Although at times Connie and her mother are “almost friends” over coffee, an issue arises that causes the two to argue “over something of little value to either of them.” Connie indicates that her mother “had been pretty once too” and as a result, Connie believes that her mother prefers her over June, who is “plain and chunky and steady.” This encourages Connie to believe that real value lies in beauty, and thus she makes the mistake of embracing vanity. This leads to Arnold’s manipulation of Connie’s beauty and desire, which leads to his empowerment over Connie.

As a result of her parent’s lack of concern and guidance, Connie is powerless when confronted by Arnold Friend. She does not know how to defend herself, and only relies on her flirting, her beauty, and the fantasy that music represents. Connie was not taught by her parents how to act towards strangers. This is evident because Connie’s parents would not even ask her obvious parental questions such as “Where are you going?” or “Where have you been?” Due to the parent’s lack of concern, Connie takes advantage of her parent’s apathetic trust and goes out to places where parents would usually disapprove of. However, Connie feels guilty about deceiving her mom, who is “simple and kind enough” But the temptations of the drive- in and the boys overpower that guilt. This foreshadows Connie’s inability to overpower the temptations that Arnold Friend represents. Connie and her mom still manages to share a bond, as seen when Connie thinks to herself “I’m not going to see my mother again.” Connie’s powerlessness is inevitable because her family did not emphasize true moral values, and as a result Connie embraced her beauty as her only value, which ultimately leads to her end by Arnold’s hands.

It is evident that Connie was overpowered by Arnold Friend because she embraced vanity as her only value, and also that Arnold took advantage of Connie’s desire for attention from men. “Where are you Going, Where have you Been” describes the eventual self awareness of Connie. Throughout the story, Connie has disregarded everything but her beauty. As a result, she only had her vanity as protection from Arnold Friend. This was clearly ineffective because it was obvious that it was Connie’s beauty and vanity that Arnold had desired since he first saw her. Arnold’s desire for Connie overpowered Connie’s desire for attention, and thus Connie had no choice but to follow Arnold in the end. Although it music was something that “made everything good” and “was something to depend on,” Arnold manipulated music as well, and as a result he took away everything that provided joy and a sense of certainty to Connie. Connie had neither moral support nor guidance from her parents, and therefore she overemphasized beauty as a value to the point where it blinded her from viewing Arnold Friend as ‘an old fiend.’

Arnold Friend was able to disguise himself as ‘an old friend’ by attempting to be the idealized man portrayed in the songs. He succeeded as a result of Connie’s misconception that everything is “the way it was in movies and promised in songs.” When Connie first sees Arnold, she cannot see anything but her reflection in Arnold’s sunglasses. This indicates that Arnold gives Connie the opportunity to see what herself as the stereotypical ‘pretty girl’, which Arnold replies “what else is there for a girl like you but to be sweet and pretty and give in” By manipulating her vanity, her desires, and her music, Arnold is able to take away her identity as a teenager, and thus Connie becomes powerless in the presence of Arnold. However, Connie matures when she casts aside her vanity by sacrificing herself for her family’s safety. She eventually overcomes her own vanity in order to protect her family from Arnold, but only after she was completely overpowered by Arnold Friend. Although she was caught between the role of being a daughter, sister, and an object of sexual desire, she takes on the role of a hero at the end by giving her life for her family.

Despite the fact that Connie became powerless in Arnold’s presence, she was still able to overcome her vanity and selfishness for her family’s sake, and this proves that Connie became powerful by the end of the story.

Works Cited

Oates, Joyce Carol. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, Compact. Ed. Laurie G. Kirszner., and Stephen R. Mandell.. New York: Heinle, 2006. 579-591

Quirk, Tom. “A SOURCE FOR ‘WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?’.” Studies in Short Fiction 18.4 (Fall 1981): 413. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Santa Monica College Library, Santa Monica, CA. 4 Apr. 2008 http://libdb.smc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=7133354&site=ehost-live

Hurley, C. Harold. “CRACKING THE SECRET CODE IN OATES’S ‘WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?’.” Studies in Short Fiction 24.1 (Winter 1987): 62. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Santa Monica College Library, Santa Monica, CA. 4 Apr. 2008 http://libdb.smc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=7151290&site=ehost-live

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