Joyce Carol Oates “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

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Joyce Carol Oates based the story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” from a story she read in Life magazine about a young man who attracted and later killed several girls in Tucson, Arizona in the early 1960s.  Although the story is fiction but it is based on this real-life account. 

G. F. Waller calls the story as “one of the masterpieces of the genre.” Oates’s realism presents the story’s central character, Connie, as a typical teenager who may be disliked, pitied, or even identified with. A similar believability is evident in Arnold Friend’s character.  His ability to manipulate through the conversation is indeed very realistic.  The psychological effects of Arnold’s threats to a vulnerable teenager are also believable.

In the story, Connie the lead character is a 15-year old girl. She is the beauty of the family. She’s quite self-absorbed, conceited and selfish at the start of the story.  Connie is depicted as the free spirit.  She resents her mom for being too strict with her.  She wants to be free from the constricting bonds that define her relationship with her mom. Being a teenager, she is at a point where she does not fully know her identity yet.  She wants to rebel for the sake of rebellion. She is simply too young to understand everything fully particularly the fact that she should stay away from bad boys.

Arnold Friend is the guy she met the night before. He came across as friendly but that Sunday he appears to be menacing. He wants her. He is obsessed with her.  He invites her for a drive. Connie rejects his invitation.  This sets off a number of negative reactions from Arnold including threats to her safety and her family’s. 

Connie tries to call the police but is too scared to do so. Arnold’s psychological manipulations work effectively on the clueless teenager.  He wields enormous control over her in the process. He asks her to come out before her parents arrive or else. At the end of the story, we see Connie finally coming out of the house in an act of surrender towards the waiting Arnold. 

Just like any normal teenager, Connie does not like the idea of being controlled. She struggles against it.  Her resistance to Arnold’s advances reflects the same resistance she shows to her mother.  Unlike with her mom though, the struggle is purely mental or verbal not physical. With Arnold, the control is total.

Connie may love adventure but she senses that being with Arnold is courting danger.  She knows her limits. She probably realizes by now that harmless fun could sometimes lead to unimaginable risks as what is happening to her.  This is a situation so painfully common in real life. 

Connie may resent her family but in the end, it is her bond with them that forces her to leave rather than see them harmed.  As a matter of fact, her thoughts before leaving are she would never see her mother again or sleep in her bed again.  

This story shows Oates’s interest in topics pertaining to adolescence. She expertly weaves in the story the psychological and social turmoil that arises in a teenager’s life. It is a time of exploration, adventure and rebellion. Sometimes, these acts could lead to negative consequences.

Oate’s preoccupation with teenage angst together with her ability to depict the special pressures facing teenagers in modern society is at the core of the story ”Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

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