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“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ” is a short story written by Joyce Carol Oates. On the surface the narrative is fairly generic. The plot follows a 15 year old girl named Connie who is a typical teen – shallow, and self consumed. She spends her days at the mall, listening to the radio, and boy watching. However, it soon becomes clear that this story has a very dark undertone. Joyce Carol Oates has commented that this short story is a “realistic allegory” and that she uses characters in the narrative to represent abstract ideas.
A common theme in much of Oates’ work is her belief that the 20th century is spiritually empty.
That people have no “spirit” of their own and therefore are easily influenced and harmed. In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ” Oates’ creates the character of Arnold Friend to be the antagonist (Davis). He is intense and powerful, and as the story continues he is like a dark persistent cloud that weighs heavy on Connie and the reader.
Arnold Friend is the physical embodiment of the devil and his omnipotence allows him to know and abuse Connie’s insecurities for his own uses. It is through Arnold that Connie goes from innocence to experienced.
Connie is a young girl just beginning to experience adult things. Her interest in boys is limited until she “sees” Arnold. Arnold Friend does not exist. He appears only to Connie, and Connie is the only person who sees him. At no point in the story is he acknowledged by any character in the story.
Even his “Friend” Ellie makes no response to Arnold comment’s which Arnold excuses away by saying “he’s shy. ” Any conversation they have with each other seems disjointed and incoherent. Connie first sees Arnold one night when Connie and her friend cross the highway to go to the burger joint (Davis).
The burger joint is a trendy hangout for a much older crowd. It is only Connie who sees Arnold Connie couldn’t help but let her eyes wander over the windshields and faces all around her, her face gleaming with a joy that had nothing to do with Eddie or even this place; it might have been the music…, and just at that moment she happened to glance at a face a few feet from hers (2). Oates also describes Arnold’s car as “a convertible jalopy painted gold (2),” and later in the story Connie easily recognizes the car as it pulls into her driveway.
The car is smashed up, and written on. Surely if the car (and Arnold) was real it would have fetched a comment from someone at the hangout. Arnold speaks only to Connie, and foreshadows his intentions in a single comment “ Gonna get you, baby” (2). Many critics believe that Arnold Friend is a daydream, or a fantasy lover conjured up by Connie. However, it is interesting to note that when Arnold comes to Connie’s house he remains in and speaks with her only in the doorway. He promises and states that he has no intention of going in without an invitation.
He is unable to cross over the threshold without being invited. This is a characteristic of an evil being. He tries hard for an invitation, romantically wooing at her Yes, I’m your lover. You don’t know what that is but you will. I know that too. I know all about you. But look: it’s real nice and you couldn’t ask for nobody better than me, or more polite. I’ll hold you so tight you won’t think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you’ll know you can’t. And I’ll come inside you where it’s all secret and you’ll give in to me and you’ll love me (8).
Connie remains unconvinced and contemplates calling the police which she eventually decides not to do. Oates’ also when describing Arnold Friend actions, writes “he looked out to see Arnold Friend pause and then take a step toward the porch, lurching. 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“ (8). The word lurching is usually used to describe the movement of an animal, and he wobbles because he has hooves instead of feet. Arnold Friend uses Connie’s insecurities to make her come to him.
First of all Arnold uses the word “Don’tcha” when asking Connie questions (Hurley). If Connie answers no she seems stupid, so it forces her to constantly agree with what Arnold is saying or asking. Connie is a normal teenage girl and is concerned about her looks. When Arnold first pulls up Connie is described as “Her heart began to pound and her fingers snatched at her hair, checking it, and she whispered, “Christ. Christ,” wondering how bad she looked“ (X). Soon after Arnold tells her “You’re cute” (3), and even later “I don’t like them fat. I like them the way you are, honey” (8).
He is trying to boost her ego. He looks and dresses like boys she is attracted too. Connie “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, and a white pull-over shirt that was a little soiled and showed the hard small muscles of his arms and shoulders. He looked as if he probably did hard work, lifting and carrying things. Even his neck looked muscular” (5). Arnold has all the characteristics and qualities that her parents want for her to resist (Hurley).
When Connie questions who Arnold is, he claims they know each other and have the same friends by listing their names “Listen: Betty Schultz and Tony Fitch and Jimmy Pettinger and Nancy Pettinger,” he said in a chant. “Raymond Stanley and Bob Hutter—” (5). He speaks as if he is singing, “He spoke in a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting the words to a song” (5) much like dangerous sirens of Greek mythology. Arnold also makes sure to have music playing that Connie likes, “Bobby King” (x) and comments “I listen to him all the time.
I think he’s great” (4). He uses slang that was popular with Connie’s school friends last year on his car “man the flying saucers. It was an expression kids had used the year before but didn’t use this year. She looked at it for a while as if the words meant something to her that she did not yet know” (6). All these things are meant to make Connie feel comfortable and at ease with Arnold. If she is comfortable she will trust him, go for a ride with him, and he can do whatever he wants with her (Slimp).
Arnold Friend tries hard to lure Connie away. He romances her like a young lover complimenting how she looks, sharing her taste in music and friends. But she still refuses and he play his last card. He states “I’m the boy for you, and like I said, you come out here nice like a lady and give me your hand, and nobody else gets hurt, I mean, your nice old bald-headed daddy and your mummy and your sister in her high heels. Because listen: why bring them in this? ” (10). It is at this point that she realizes she has no choice but to go with him.
For all the annoyance, resentment, and bitterness she displays toward her family, in the end, she is willing to give up herself for them. She must go with Arnold to save her family and maybe herself. She chooses to go with Arnold because she sees that as her only alternative. Oddly enough if she, at 15, had been as worldly as she would have liked she would have been strong enough and smart enough to realize she did not have to go with Arnold. That she was in control and could easily send him away. Arnold Friend is the embodiment of evil intent and he uses Connie’s inexperience to manipulate her.
He shows himself to Connie in a way that she would feel comfortable with – as a young smooth talking boy who wants to court her (Slimp). He represents the internal and external conflict that Connie has inside. She resists his various temptations but surrenders herself in hopes of saving her family from harm. At the end of the story the reader does not know what really happens to Connie. The open ended conclusion let’s the reader reflect on their own conflicts, their own insecurities and weakness. And we, the audience have to wonder, if the evil in the world is going to get us too.
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