Critical Analysis of “Where are you going, where have you been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
It is during the summer when Connie, a young girl aged 15 spends most of her time meeting boys, hanging out with friends, and lounging around houses. On one occasion, a strange man uses threatening gestures toward her when she was at one of the drive-in restaurant’s parking yard (Oates 211). Connie is not bothered by this threatening gesture until on a Sunday afternoon when she is left alone at home after the rest of the family members attend a barbecue hosted at Connie’s aunt’s house. It is during her lonely period at home that the stranger who had used threatening gestures at her pulls up in a company of a friend while driving. The man on the steering takes the lead by introducing himself to Connie as Arnold Friend. After the formal introduction, Arnold requests Connie (the little girl) to accompany him for a free ride around the village.
Along the way, Connie and Arnold engages in a conversation, and it is through that conversation that Connie starts doubting this man’s intention as he is more of a threat to Connie than first thought. Arnold’s language gets more sexually violent and explicit, and he even threats to harm the whole of Connie’s family if she tries reaching out to the police for help, (Oates 671). Although Connie tried to reach out to the police, her effort was not successful as she panics. In the end, Connie leaves their house and forcefully joins Arnold. Therefore, there is a protagonist-antagonist between Arnold and Connie with Arnold being the antagonist while Connie is the protagonist. This is evidenced throughout the story from the forceful ride to Connie’s innocent death.
Connie looks obsessed with her physical looks and beauty, and she relishes on the fact that she is centre of attraction for both young and old men in the town. This is a cautionary story of the little innocent Connie who is introduced to the harsh and evil world having flirted her way off home. Connie’s mother is concerned about her carefree and beauty that makes men to find as being attractive and charming (Wilson 53-4). However, Connie’s contempt makes her to rebel against her mother. The differences between Connie and her mother did not start now as her mother often tried to ask why she was not like her sister. For instance, Connie’s mother as kept asking her “Why don’t you keep your room clean like your sister? How do you got your hair fixed-what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don’t see your sister using that junk?” (Oates 947). Throughout the story, the once innocent girl becomes more careless, daring, and provocative. This is evidenced by her actions when she starts acting devilishly promiscuous without mind about her parents’ advice. Having not listened to her parents, Connie faces the consequences of her deviant when she gets a face-to-face encounter with danger and evils at the mercies of Arnold (Oates 731).
Although Connie tries to works hard to show her appearance as being an experienced and mature girl when it comes to her interaction with men, the encounter with Arnold Friend finally reveals that it is only but a performance. Connie, through her hairstyle, general behavior, and clothing has created attractive adult persona that makes her to get the desired attention from boys (Oates 652). However, she confuses her ability to attract the attention of the male fox with the desire for sexual interaction. The romance and love evident in the music that Connie listens to and also the pop culture images in her surrounding are apparently different from what she perceives as the reality concerning adult sexuality (Keilbach 167). Though Connie and Eddie go into alley to experiments the adult sexuality, she is remains fearful of her adult status. Connie is forcefully take into adulthood by Arnold, however, this violent act of adulthood ends up representing unexpected shift within herself: abandoning of her childlike fantasy as a way of facing the realities surrounding being a mature girl. The thin line between reality and fantasy is blurred by Friend Arnold himself as he never let fall into another category. Arnold’s physical look makes it hard to know whether he is less human or pure human (Wegs 88). Arnold may be a strange man, a nightmare, or a devil that Connie has from her long sunlight stay.
Oates implies that Friend Arnold is a Satan by offering some clues to the reader, particularly the name that this character is given hint his evil characters:
“Connie looked away from Friend’s smile to the car, which was painted so bright it almost hurt her eyes to look at it. She looked at the name, Arnold Friend. She looked at it for a while as if the words meant something to her that she did not yet know” (Oates 583).
Besides, Arnold’s appearance is an indication that she is worth doubting his characters and behaviors, “There were two boys in the car and now she recognizes the driver: he had shaggy, shabby black hair that looked as a crazy wig”(Oates 583). As the narrator describes, Arnold’s diabolic presence are evidenced using sunglasses to hide his eye identity. The narrator describes his eyes as “chips of broken glass that catch the light in an amiable way” (Oates 584). These show how evil Arnold is. Connie develops a strong sexual desire that makes her fall in the hands of sexually exploitative men led by Arnold.
Oates’s evocation of Dylan Bob is purposeful in adding to the richness of the setting of the story, particularly during the 1960s when social revolution was taking place. During this period, most American women were using all the possible means of asserting their independence and rights from men, and also claiming their human sexuality in a unique way than before. One of the frequently discussed topics during this period was the adolescence, anxieties, and struggles ensured by the young girls like Connie who lost their valued sexual innocence on their way adulthood. After being undervalued in their relationships with men and at home, women questioned their position in the society and the contribution of gender and sex in their lives. In this book, Oates explores the social upheaval in the miniature: Connie (representing young women in the country) should confront her anxieties and struggles in the processes of transcending into adulthood. Her violent separation from the love of her family marks the beginning of self-independence, with Arnold Friend coming into Connie’s life as a savior by no means. The sweeping and dramatic changes in the American society during the 1960s are evident in the story by the Connie’s psychological terror and the dark journey awaiting her.
Keilbach, Andreas. The Concept of Duality in Joyce Carol Oates’s “where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. München: GRIN Verlag, 2009. Internet resource.
Oates, Joyce C, and Elaine Showalter. “where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1994. Print.
Wegs, Joyce M. “Don’t You Know Who I Am?”: The Grotesque in Oates’s ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'” Critical Essays on Joyce Carol Oates. Linda W. Wagner, ed. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1979, p.87-92.
Wilson, Jacqueline, “Joyce Carol Oates’s ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ As an Initiation Story”. Eureka Studies in Teaching Short Fiction 3, 2 (2003): 47-58.