Where Are You Going?


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Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” tells the tale of a fifteen year old girl named Connie living in the early 1960’s who is stalked and ultimately abducted by a man who calls himself Arnold Friend. The short story is based on a true event, but has been analyzed by many literary scholars and allegedly possesses numerous underlying themes. Two of the most popular interpretations of the story are that the entire scenario is only dreamt by Connie (Rubin, 58) and that the abductor is really the devil in disguise (Easterly, 537). But the truth is that sometimes people really can just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Connie, a victim of terrifying circumstance will be forever changed by her interactions with Friend.
Oates drew the character of Connie very well - she possesses many of the qualities that teenaged children share. According to developmental psychologists, adolescents become highly critical of siblings, and peer relationships take precedence over familial ties during these years (Feldman, 455). These traits are apparent in Connie’s unflattering description of her older sister June, “…she was so plain and chunky…” (209) and the fact that Connie spends many nights out with friends, but refuses to attend an afternoon picnic with her family (211).
In addition, a teenager’s feelings of self worth are dependent upon the approval of others. Connie displays this as she practices “…checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right” (208). And of course there is also the explosion of hormones and corresponding sexual urges and fantasies. Oates makes all of these characteristics clear in her descriptions of Connie’s actions, thoughts and feelings.
Rubin attempts to convey the idea that Connie falls asleep in the sun and has a daydream in which her “…intense desire for total sexual experience runs headlong into her innate fear…” (58); and aspects of the story do seem dream like - for instance the way in which the boys in Connie’s daydreams “…dissolved into a single face…” (210), but the supposition that the entire episode is a dream does not ring true. There are many instances in which Connie perceives the frightening truth quite clearly; she is able to identify the many separate elements of Friend’s persona - “… that slippery friendly smile of his… [and] the singsong way he talked…” (214). But because of the lack of attachment with her own family, and her limited experience in relating deeply to others, “…all of these things did not come together” (214) and Connie is unable to recognize the real danger that Arnold Friend poses until it is too late.

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I certainly agree with Courtland who states that the Connie’s character is “never more than half awake to reality…” (507). But Arnold Friend is not a figure in a dream, and he is not the devil incarnate.
Authors such as Easterly try to convince the reader that Arnold Friend is demon; the wig he wears cover horns and pointed ears, and that his walk is strange because he has hooves instead of feet (538). But it is more logical to assume that Friend is a rapist and murderer who wears a disguise to try to blend into the environment to more easily hunt his victim. And though Friend confuses and scares Connie with his seemingly uncanny ability to glean the whereabouts of her family, this too could simply be the wily trick of a psychopath. Perhaps as he stalked Connie, Friend made sure to become informed about the plans of her friends and family. Indeed, Friend confesses exactly that when he says, “I took a special interest in you…and found out all about you…” (213).
Unfortunately for the beautiful and vain girl, the moment that she “drew her shoulders up and sucked in her breath with the pure pleasure of being alive” (210), the life she knew ended; she could not wake up from the dream, or say that the ‘devil made her do it.’ A killer had chosen her as his next victim. As she walked out of her house and into Friend’s arms, Connie realizes that she was leaving her home for the last time; and she would never see her family again (218).




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