Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (Style)

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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (Style)


Point of View

The first line of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?“ — “Her name was Connie “ — signals that it is being told by a third-person narrator. This narrative voice stays closely aligned to Connie’s point of view. The reader learns what her thoughts are, but the narrator provides no additional information or judgment of the situation. For instance, Connie’s harsh appraisals of her sister and mother are discussed: “now [her mother’s] looks were gone and that was why she was always after Connie,” but it is clear that this assessment is Connie’s and not the narrator’s.

Observing the story’s events through a narrator who presents things as Connie sees them allows the reader to identify with her terror as she is transformed from a flirt into a victim. Arnold Friend is presented only as he appears to Connie; the reader learns nothing of his unspoken thoughts. This narrative “detachment” makes him less human and more ominous than if the narrator provided details that would allow the reader to identify with him. Maintaining the third-person narrative voice instead of telling the story in Connie’s own words, however, allows Oates to use descriptive language that Connie would presumably not. It is through this language that much of the mood, imagery, and symbolism of the story emerges.


References to popular music and slang date the events in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” to the same period when Oates wrote the story in the mid-1960s. Oates sketches in few details of the town, which is meant to be a typical suburban landscape that includes familiar sights such as a shopping plaza and drive-in restaurant. This setting is further described in the reference to the newness and style of the three-year-old “asbestos ‘ranch house’” Connie lives in. Such an innocuous setting is incongruous with the violence suggested in the story, and the contrast serves to heighten the reader’s uneasiness. The lack of specific description of the setting serves to universalize the story’s themes, which suggest that Connie’s lack of identity is a legacy of modern suburban culture. Though the actual location of the story is irrelevant, the reference to the radio show Connie listens to, the “XYZ Sunday Jamboree,” may be a reference to radio station WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan, the area in which Oates lived at the time the story was written.


The structure of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” follows a familiar pattern. The first few pages of exposition acquaint the reader with Connie and her family, providing details about her character and lifestyle. The rising action begins when Arnold Friend pulls into the driveway and instigates a conversation with Connie. Her character, which has been carefully outlined, begins to interact with another force. This force presents a conflict for Connie: should she succumb to Arnold, or try to save herself? At the climax of the story, Connie’s will is overtaken by Arnold and she acquiesces to his evil desires.

The most unusual aspect of the story’s structure, perhaps, is its lack of resolution. The action abruptly ends as Connie walks towards Arnold. The fact that the reader does not find out Connie’s fate further heightens the story’s mood of violence, in which horror is suggested, but never shown. The only hint of the action’s resolution is in the foreshadowing statements made by Arnold when he says he wants to “come inside you where it’s all secret” and show Connie “what love is like,” statements that hint at rape. Similarly, Connie laments that’ ’I’m not going to see my mother again” or “sleep in my bed again,” comments that suggest her murder. However, the lack of a stated resolution has been a point of major discussion in critical essays on the story, with some proposing that Connie is killed and others proposing that she is not. Some critics look outside the story, to Oates’s factual source in the Arizona murderer she had read about in Life magazine, to find evidence of Connie’s certain death. An additional interpretation of the story’s resolution is provided by critic Larry Rubin, who interprets the entire encounter with Arnold as Connie’s dream. By this reasoning, the story’s unstated resolution involves Connie’s awakening from one of her “trashy daydreams.” The ambiguity of the resolution heightens the narrative’s lingering mood of horror by prolonging suspense beyond its ending.

Symbolism and Imagery

Many critics have interpreted Arnold Friend as a symbol of some larger idea or force, such as the devil, death, or sexuality. Connie, also, has been said to represent many things: Eve, troubled youth, or spiritually unenlightened humanity. Such interpretations can be validated by Oates’s initial title for the story, “Death and the Maiden,” which she explains was chosen to suggest “an allegory of the fatal attractions of death (or the devil)” for a young woman who is “seduced by her own vanity.” Oates also points out, though, that as she revised the story her interest shifted toward a more realistic, rather than allegorical, treatment of her character and situation.

Several images are used to give readers insight into Connie’s perspective in the story. These images frequently relate to popular music, which serves as a background throughout the entire story and takes on a near-sacred religious function for Connie since “none of them bothered with church.” “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” is subtitled “For Bob Dylan,” and at least one critic has noticed the similarity between Arnold’s car and the “magic swirling ship” that Dylan wrote about in his 1960s song “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Connie believes that life and love will be “the way it was in movies and promised in songs.” This belief in the simplistic thoughts of popular music makes her unable to discern Arnold Friend’s true nature until it is too late to escape. Arnold, too, relies on song lyrics to seduce Connie. In a “half-sung sigh” he calls her “My sweet little blue-eyed girl,” a possible reference to the Van Morrison song “Brown-Eyed Girl.” Connie, in fact, has brown eyes, and the misstatement is further evidence that Arnold is not what he seems.


Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been – Oates
Joyce Carol Oates releases certain details of Connie’s and Arnold’s character slowly throughout their encounter, building tension and fear throughout. How do the details released reflect this ever increasing tension between them? Identify some of the ominous details in the story that foreshadow a tragic end for Connie. What are some of the weapons that Arnold Friend uses against Connie?
In what way does Connie “have it coming” or does she? Is this ironical or just poetic justice? Why does she get in the car at the end? Is this a weakness in her character or the strength of Arnold? How does Connie’s character make her an easy target for Arnold Friend?
In what ways has her view of the world and of herself been shaped by her “culture”? What elements of the setting help the reader to form an opinion about the culture Connie lives in?
What is the significance of the title and the character’s names?
How does the story follow a regular plot structure even with action?
See also essay: from:http://home.mindspring.com/~blkgrnt/footlights/foot66.html (I have this in a file too: "Psycho and Feminist Analysis of Oates' Story.)


    For over thirty years critics have debated over Connie’s decision to leave with Arnold Friend because readers find it unnatural for a young woman to leave with a total stranger. Critics find this a significant issue in literary criticism because it questions Connie’s values and morals, and the author’s intent. Some critics, like Marie Urbanski, believe that Connie leaves with Arnold because she is, “bowing to absolute forces which her youthful coquetry cannot direct – absolute forces over which she has no control” (78).  Urbanski and other critics feel that Arnold’s persuasive demeanor forces Connie into his hands because she cannot resist his seductive temptations, which in turn, create other “forces” within Connie’s mind which prevent her from having a clear judgment towards the situation. Another critic, Tom Quirk, scratches the surface of Connie’s psyche by believing that “there is a fire inside Connie’s brain” to rebel against the “American Dream” of “hearth and home and innocent youth” and that she leaves with Arnold to rebel against the norms of society (88). Quirk comes very close in understanding Connie’s motivation but he needs to go one step further by delving deeper into her psyche to find out why she left with Arnold.  To probe Connie’s mind we need to ask deeper questions such as: What was Connie’s home life like? What kind of relationship did Connie have with her parents and sister?  Whom did Connie associate with outside of the home?  What kind of life did Arnold offer Connie? Finally, did Connie leave on her own free will? Once we build a psychological profile of Connie we will be able to answer these questions and conclude that Connie leaves with Arnold Friend on her own free will.

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