Joyce Carol Oates Essay
Joyce Carol Oates
‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ’ is a short story written by renowned author Joyce Carol Oates. The story was originally published in 1966 in Epoch magazine and selected for The Best American Short Stories in 1967 and later won the The O. Henry Award in 1968. The short story’s prominence prompted the creation of a movie adaptation in 1986 entitled Smooth Talk which became the center of several feminist debates. The defining short fiction was inspired by the Pied Piper of Tucson, a teenage killer from Arizona, whom the author read about in Life magazine back in the 60s.
Using details from the real life version of Arnold Friend – the story’s main embodiment of seduction and evil – Oates crafted a realistic allegory that is “Hawthorian, romantic, shading into parable” (Oates & Showalter, 6) that depicts innocence and the consequence of its loss. Like the moniker for the real life serial killer and the actual children’s parable, ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ’ features a tale that is part twisted Little Red Riding Hood and part The Pied Piper of Hamelin adapted to the post 1950s innocence coupled with the rude awakening of America.
At the center of the modern parable is the typical all American girl of the post 50s generation – 15 year old Connie – who is portrayed caught up between the declining innocent sensibilities of the 50s and the rude awakening of the 60s [an emerging culture embodied by rock and roll, random violence, crime and war]. Connie is said to be the embodiment of the new morality emerging in America (Oates & Showalter, 7) and Connie represents this transitional period by being depicted as having two sides to her personality: one that is worn “one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home” (Oates, 509).
Quoting Douglas Griffin “Connie is clearly a girl of two minds. The first is the standard life of a bored teen in what appears to be the traditional post 1950’s home; the second is as a teenager on the cusp of attachment to music, cars and sex” (1). Despite the fact that Connie is a teenager awakening in the worldly 1960s, her portrayal still had hints of the innocence typical of someone who grew up through most of the 50s. This is probably why Connie was chosen as the perfect representation of the trappings of choice created by the period marked with boredom: she is the tragic victim of the choice to lose one’s own innocence.
Despite her depiction as being more akin to the modern teenagers of her time, Connie’s inherent innocence is still [though barely] palpable within the context of the story. To determine the state of innocence still present in the protagonist Connie, the best probable approach would be to liken her to the prominent figure that mirrors her in a parable often told children: Little Red Riding Hood. First it must be noted that the tale of Little Red Riding Hood as told by Charles Perrault is a cautionary moral tale that warns innocent children of the consequences of listening to the words of a stranger.
The parable goes as far as to warn women and children of the wolf in sheep’s clothing; that not all wolves are outwardly threatening and that those most dangerous are often the tame, obliging and gentle (Perrualt). In Perrault’s version of the children’s fable, it was little red riding hood’s own trusting words when she first encountered the wolf that gave the wolf the opening he needed to scheme and eventually eat the unsuspecting child. Like little red riding hood, Connie also failed to realize the presence of the wolf in the woods she was in.
She saw him, noticed him [Arnold Friend], but she “slit her eyes at him and turned away” (Oates, 510) and paid no heed to his declaration “Gonna get you, baby” (Oates, 510). Little red riding hood mistook the wolf’s intentions for friendliness while Connie mistook Arnold Friend’s look for plain simple admiration. In this particular situation, it could be said that Connie fell victim to the same innocent misgivings of a child like little red riding hood did. This similar pattern is repeated once again near the end of both tales.
In the children’s parable, Little Red Riding Hood once again represented innocence in the form of childish curiosity, asking a series of innocent questions that eventually build up to the grim, climactic ending. Here, in her innocence, little red riding hood failed to recognize the wolf disguised as her grandmother, blindly believing the wolf’s answers without taking notice of the signs already in front of her. In a similar vein, Connie also fell victim to the disguised Arnold Friend in the same way.
In this particular part of the story, Arnold Friend blatantly presents himself as a friend, talking in a sing-song manner. However, despite being able to “recognize[d] most things about him, the tight jeans […] the greasy leather boots and the tight shirt, […] that slippery friendly smile of his, that sleepy dreamy smile that all the boys used to get across ideas they didn’t want to put into words […] the singsong way he talked, […] the way he tapped one fist against the other in homage to the perpetual music behind him […] all these things did not come together” (Oates, 513).
until much later. Again, like little red riding hood, the wolf was already in front of Connie and she did not immediately notice the threat he posed. Aside from these mirroring qualities between the parable and Oates’ story, Connie also had independent characteristics and behavioural hints that reflect her inherent innocence. This presumed innocence somewhat has a childish quality to it, possibly making it another mirroring quality between Connie and the child in little red riding hood.
For example, at the beginning of the text Connie was described as having a quick nervous giggling habit of glancing at mirrors (Oats, 509) – a trait that can be said Connie might share with a newborn or toddler who has just recently discovered his/her reflection. Her walk, described as childlike and bobbing, could be seen as another hint. In public her laugh becomes high pitched and nervous as if she were shy and uncertain. During their nights out at the drive-in restaurant she and her friend would often sit “at the counter and crossed their legs at the ankles” in [feigned] modesty.
Even the way she dreams her ‘trashy’ dreams has a puritanical sense to it, peppered with an ideal that is in no way carnal or corrupt: Connie sat with her eyes closed in the sun, dreaming and dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love, the caresses of love, and her mind slipped over onto thoughts of the boy she had been with the night before and how nice he had been, how sweet it always was […] gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs (Oates, 510).
These descriptions of Connie paint her to still have child-like qualities. She has an ideal she believes in, she has an honest sense about herself and her world, and she possesses the same uncertainties a child would have if cast into a strange world. Perhaps, in Connie’s case this is especially true since she is growing up in a new culture that is not like that of the previous decade. However, being an adolescent exposed to the emerging new morals of the time, Connie is often faced with instances that will challenge her moral choices.
She is cast as part of a generation that has become bored, a generation that is slowly turning towards anything that would distract them – even for the briefest moments. And in the years the story was based upon, the teenagers of the time has turned to rock and roll, drugs and sex as means of diversion (Moser). Connie in the text is no different. Her fantasy world “is the world of James Dean, Natalie Wood and Rebel Without a Cause” (Oates & Showalter, 7). She lives in a time where pre-marital sex is romanticized, drugs is an option and teen rebellion is hyped.
Her exposure to this environment was not solely coincidental but also consensual. It was always her choice to “enter[ing] a sacred building that loomed up out of the night to give them what haven and blessing they yearned for” (Oates, 510). It was always her decision to go out with boys named Eddie or some other and have their faces fall back and “dissolve[d] into a single face that was not even a face but an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent insistent pounding of the […] night” (Oates, 510). It was her own behaviour and choices that led her to the same woods the wolf Arnold Friend stalked.
‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ’ has always been argued as an allegory of good versus evil, of innocence and corruption (Oats & Showalter, 9). Certainly the character of Arnold Friend is the depiction of evil and of corruption and Connie saw this but turned a blind eye. Friend’s seduction and coercion of Connie near the end of the story is a representation of how one’s choices might consequently invite the devil to drive up right into one’s very own driveway. It was Connie’s choices that spoke to Arnold, the same way little red riding hood told the wolf, and led [both] the evil right onto her very own doorsteps.
Ultimately, “Connie’s journey down the path of worldliness eventually leads her to a place that she clearly did not intend” (Griffin, 1) and this has left her “hollow with what had been fear but what was now just an emptiness” as she “watched herself push the door slowly open […] moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited” (Oates, 520). Connie, like little red riding hood, was consumed by the wolf. Works Cited Griffin, Douglas. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates – An Examination of the Trappings of Choice. ” Www.
Bookstove. com. Stanza Ltd. 6 May 2009 < http://www. bookstove. com/Drama/Where-Are-You-Going-Where-Have-You-Been-by-Joyce-Carol-Oates. 36420> Moser, Don. “The Pied Piper of Tucson. ” Casebook. Oates, Joyce Carol; Laurie Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell (editors). “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing 6th Ed. Cengage Learning, 2006. Oates, Joyce Carol and Elaine Showalter. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? 2nd Ed. Rutgers University Press, 1994. Perrault, Charles. “Little Red Riding Hood. ” Casebook.
Subject: O. Henry,
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 22 September 2016
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