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Delivering Moral Messages in Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been and A Good Man is Hard to Find

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Delivering Moral Messages in Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been and A Good Man is Hard to Find

School shootings, bombings, rape, and murder are words that are commonly seen in newspaper headlines and heard on the morning news. To most people these acts seem like senseless violence. However, writers like Joyce Carol Oates and Flannery O’Connor use these same violent images to deliver a powerful moral message. Their stories “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” are very comparable in the lessons that they teach.

Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” begins with the introduction of it’s main character, Connie, a fifteen year- old girl. Oates makes Connie’s vanity quiet well know by telling the reader that Connie has the “habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors”. Indeed, it is this vanity and Connie’s innocence that places her right in the path of Arnold Friend. Arnold will confirm this by telling Connie that there is nothing else for “a pretty girl like you but to be sweet and give in.” In fact, critics generally interpret this story as Connie’s initiation into evil.

What’s in a name? If you’re talking about one of Joyce Carol Oates’s characters, a name can say a lot. Arnold Friend’s name can be interpreted as “aren’t no friend” or “A. Friend” (Johnson 150). Either way his is a demonic figure that represents the death of Connie’s spirit. In fact, Arnold Friend is based on a serial killer know as “The Pied Piper of Tucson.” As Oates reports, this “tabloid psychopath” specialized in “the seduction and occasional murder of teenage girls” (Wesley). The Pied Piper was in his thirties; yet, he managed to counterfeit teenage dress, talk, and behavior. He also stuffed rags into his leather boots to give him height. These elements of the Pied Piper’s behavior are very obvious in Oates’s portrayal of Arnold Friend (Johnson 148).

Joyce Carol Oates dedicated “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” to Bob Dylan. His song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” was her inspiration. The many lines from Dylan’s song obviously influenced the story (see appendix A).

The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in clothes that you once wore.
However, the mood and tone of the story also reveal more subtle connections (Davidson).

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” has ...


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... and The Misfit play similar demonic roles and serve as a reminder that evil can come in many forms. They both violently lead their victims to make religious epiphanies. The price paid for their spiritual rebirth is an immediate death.

Both Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates have been criticized for their violent writings. However, the acts portrayed in their stories aren’t senseless. They are meant to show the purification of the involved characters. Also, they serve as a catharsis or reassurance of faith for the reader.

Works Cited

Davidson, Rob. Dedication of Joyce Carol Oates’s Short Story to Dylan. 16 Mar. 2000
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Friedman, Melvin L., and Clark, Beverly Lyon. Critical Essays on Flannery O’Connor.
Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1985.

Johnson, Greg. Joyce Carol Oates: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1994.

Portch, Stephen R. “O’Connor’s ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’.” The Explicator 37 (1978): 19-20.

Schott, Webster. “Flannery O’Connor: Faith’s Stepchild.” The Nation 201 (1965): 142-44, 146.

Wesley, Marilyn C. “The Transgressive Other in Joyce Carol Oates’s Recent Fiction.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction XXXIII (1992): 255-62.


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