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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Essay

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Joyce Carol Oates' short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" written in the late sixties, reveals several explanations of its plot. The story revolves around a young girl being seduced, kidnapped, raped and then killed. The story is purposely vague and that may lead to different interpretations. Teenage sex is one way to look at it while drug use or the eerie thought that something supernatural may be happening may be another. The story combines elements of what everyone may have experienced as an adolescent mixed with the unexpected dangers of vanity, drugs, music and trust at an early age. Ultimately, it is up to the reader to choose what the real meaning of this story is. At one point or another one has encountered, either through personal experience or through observation, a teenager who believes that the world is plotting against them. The angst of older siblings, peer pressure set upon them by their friends, the need for individualism, and the false pretense that at fifteen years of age, they are grown are all factors which affect the main character in this story.

Oates is accused of "producing too much" (676). This story is no different. Her exposition is painstaking. She sets the scene by making the main character and protagonist, Connie, parallel to an average girl in the sixties. Oates' narrator introduces Connie using elements of description which puts emphasis on the vanity of the main character. Connie's mother is quickly introduced and is used by the narrator to reveal how much disdain her mother has for her vanity. The narrator uses the main character's mother to introduce her sister, June. One is led to believe that sibling rivalry is one of the many causes that lead to the demise o...


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... the devil, with his partner, Ellie, as the devil's advocate. His voice changes from one time to the next as expressed by Oates, as she states, "He had the voice of the man on the radio. It was the same voice, Connie thought" (671). Later in the paragraph, Oates states, "'Maybe you better step out here,' he said, and this last was in a different voice (671)."

Even though there seems to be many translations of this story which all seem to be slightly different, they do seem to come together in some odd way. The story does not have to mean one thing or the other. It can have multiple meanings depending on the point of view of the reader. This could be a tragic story of rape and murder. It can be a social commentary on the evils of drugs and rock and roll. It could be a fantasy which is fueled by drugs, or it can be a lesson on life and who we should trust.


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