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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates Essay

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Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is a modern
interpretation of the classic narrative of evil tempting innocence. Oates’ version of the devil
allegory combines this Christian model of temptation with contemporary secular society. Connie
is a pretty fifteen year-old girl, beginning the process of maturation into adulthood. She begins to
become aware of her ability to act of her own volition, but her naivete renders her ignorant to
Arnold Friend’s layers of deception. Connie’s blindness is the pretext of her loss of innocence
and subsequent fall from grace.
Connie plays with the idea of adulthood, but at fifteen, she is still too young for her
actions to be deemed acceptable by her parents so Connie lives a dual life. She is one person at
home and someone completely different when she leaves. She unbuttons her blouse, adds some
sensuality to her stride, wears lipstick and adds a flirtation to her laugh when she leaves her
home and family. The narration implies that Connie experiments with sexuality, spending hours
with boys in alleyways, but her conception of sex, love, and boys is highly romanticized and
naive, “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, not the way someone like June would suppose
but sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs,” (122). Her idealized
conception of her encounters highlight her fixation on a kind of lived fantasy blinding her from
reality. Connie acts out mini-romances with boys that she compares to dreamy representations in
movies and songs. However, Connie’s preoccupation with boys has nothing to do with the
individual bo...


... middle of paper ...


... opened so much
that she omnisciently sees herself walk out to Arnold Friend and her inevitable ruin. Connie steps
outside of her house, marking her fall from grace, innocence lost, and the awakening of
consciousness.
The anthropomorphizing of a figure of absolute evil is archetypical -- from Satan in
Milton’s Paradise Lost, to Mephistopholes in Goethe’s Faust. The grotesqueness of Arnold
Friend lies in Connie’s blindness; she misses what any reader could easily miss. Through Oates’
depiction of an incarnate Devil preying on a contemporary youth, she captures the timelessness
of the reality and presence of evil. Oates deviates from Paradise Lost and Faust in that there is no
redemption for Connie. Her twisted fate is all there is for her. This nihilistic close leaves us with
a voided sentiment, but that seems to be just what the Devil would want.


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