Religious Images in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by J. C. Oates: Arnold Friend is A Symbolic Devil
Arnold Friend is one of the central personages in the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by J. C. Oates. He draws our attention with his flamboyant appearance, that turns out to be an allegoric image of evil. He possesses all the powers that are common to evil in the Christian religion. In the story J. C. Oates expressed the existential ideas by using Arnold Friend as a symbolic devil that seduces a naïve teenage girl Connie, who wanted to experience first love. However, the values of the culture and society in which Connie lived have not taught her to be aware of the dangers of temptation and seduction. In the Bible, evil had seduced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit that resulted in banishing Adam and Eve from paradise, in the story; Connie was seduced by evil Arnold Friend that resulted in the physical rape and spiritual defeat, thus Arnold Friend is a symbolic devil.
One of the existential themes playing a major role in the story is the choice between right and wrong. According to the Macmillan Dictionary of the Bible, “… the human experience of evil is closely related to the freedom to choose between right and wrong. The Bible also indicates that evil arises from the activity of an unseen person called the devil or Satan” (Macmillan). The story was written in 1966 which was the age of youth that resulted in revolutionary way of thinking, liberal ideas and change of the American cultural life. Connie was living in the society where sexuality, love and freedom had an enormous impact on the minds of young people. We see that she really did not understand her mother and sister who still possessed the values from the conservative 1950’s. “How’ve you got your hair fixed – what the
hell stinks? Hair spray? You don’t see your sister using that junk” (Oates 118). Her sister is also described as “plain and chunky and steady” (119), which gives the reader an idea of a strong conflict between new stylish looks and old fashioned plain girls. Connie’s only wish was to free herself from the family and to enjoy the pleasures of freedom and explore her own sexuality. However, she finds herself alone in this new world to make a decision between right and wrong. Her desires make her vulnerable to the work of evil. The symbols of the seducing nature of evil have been pursuing her from the beginning of the story.
Since the cultural values have changed dramatically, the restaurant becomes the allegory of the church. Connie’s most favorite place to hang out is the drive – in restaurant across the shopping mall. Even the shape of the restaurant is reminiscent of the shape of the church. “The restaurant was shaped like a big bottle… and on its cap was a revolving figure of a grinning boy holding a hamburger aloft” (Oates 120). Most of the church has bottle shaped façade, however on the top of it there is a cross. Here instead of cross we see the boy with hamburger which shows that now people worship boys and hamburgers instead of worshipping Jesus. Furthermore, for the girls this restaurant is a “sacred building” (120), where they sit “crossed their legs and ankles” (120). People in the church cross their arms and listen to the mass, in other words listen to the word of God. Here the girls cross their legs and listen to the pop music. “The music was always in the background, like music at a church service; it was something to depend upon” (Oates 120). The pop music becomes a worshiping object and most of all Bob Dylan, who was the king of all teenagers in the 1960’s.
The popular music in the story ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ retains the taste of realism and also has become almost religious in dimension among the youths. According to the literature critic O. Urbanski, the recurring music is a vehicle of Connie’s seduction: “It is music – instead of an apple – which lures Connie, quickens her heartbeat; and popular lyrics which constitute Friend’s conversation and cadence – his promises, threats, and the careless confidence with which he seduces her (200 – 01). Sunday mornings instead of going to the church, Connie stays at home and listens to Bobby King. Once again the church service has been replaced with the popular music. Arnold Friend has been listening to the same type of music as Connie. Since they both shared the same choice of listening to music and agree that Bobby King is great, Connie with interest continued the conversation with Arnold Friend. According to T. White, “music is Friend’s form of temptation to get inside Connie’s head with ease and familiarity” (4). In the story Arnold Friend’s way of speaking with Connie is related directly to the music. “He spoke in a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting the words to a song” (Oates 126). He also tells the names of Connie’s friends in a form of chant, which is the first musical form used in the church. Despite the fact that Arnold Friend used music as a seductive tool to lure Connie in the world of sin, his appearance and behavior also gives us clues about his devilish existence.
Arnold Friend as a character in the story attracts the reader with his strange appearance which suggests his devilish disposition. When Connie meets him for the first time, he appears with “shaggy black hair in a convertible jalopy painted gold” (Oates 121). The gold color of the car is also a tool of seduction because it is shiny, unconventional and attracts attention. He didn’t get out from the car as most of us do, but slid out as a snake, which in the Bible proposes a form of devil. His eyes were “like holes that were not in shadow but instead in light” (Oates 126). His posture was strange and “his feet resemble the devil’s cloven hooves: ‘One of his boots was at a strange angle, as if his foot wasn’t in it.’…” (Urbanski 201 – 02). He had a hawk like nose and was sniffing which makes him personified as an animal or a dog. Arnold Friend seemed to have supernatural power who knew everything about everybody. He knew Connie’s friends, their names, what she did last night and the whereabouts of her parents. This uncanny behavior makes an impact on Connie, but she still cannot make her choice between resisting Arnold Friend or to give in to his influence. The lack of her resistance gave even more power to the devil to impose his will on her. She could not call for help because she voluntary followed the instructions given by the devil, Arnold Friend: “That’s a good girl. Put the phone back’” (Oates 134). Arnold Friend threatened Connie with dire consequences of hurting her family and loved ones if she would not relent with his demands. This spell of fear compelled Connie to surrender to Arnold Friend’s adamant hegemony.
Besides a strange outlook of Arnold Friend, he also has a set of mythical numbers that represents him. The three numbers on his car 33, 19, 17 add up to the number 69 which becomes a “secret sexual code” (White 4). Number 11 followed Connie from the beginning of the story. Her father used to pick up the girls from the mall at eleven, she meets her friend at eleven, and on Sunday Connie gets up at eleven. According to the Bible Study website, number eleven “marks disorder, disorganization, imperfection and disintegration” (website). This implies that the world in which Connie lived was disorganized and imperfect. She valued popular music and worshiped boys, but she was unaware of the dangers lurking behind her choices. Connie’s desire to explore her sexuality despite conventional rules made her susceptible to the work of the devil. Her world gets tainted by the intrusion of Arnold Friend. Her parents also had contributed to the haphazard lifestyle of her world. Her father was never at home and he hardly found the time to talk to her. The reader also gets an impression that on Sundays it was not important for all the members of the family to attend the church together which let us suspect that Connie was left alone to choose between moral and immoral.
In order to understand Arnold Friend’s devilish nature it is also important to analyze the meaning of his name. According to the etymology of the names website, the name Arnold is derived “from a Germanic name meaning ‘eagle power’” (Behind The Name). This gives us an idea of his supernatural powers. The second part of the name Friend sounds like human friendly. Unfortunately, “Oates’s Arnold Friend is euphemistically named from ‘Our Old Friend’ and apparently has carte blanche to roam the world at will in search of souls; this day it will be Connie’s” (White 2). Apparently Arnold Friend’s final mission is not to become friends with Connie as his name suggests, but to take advantage of her desires and victimize her.
Arnold Friends sign X also leads to the conclusion that he’s been send to look for the souls. In the story he tells to Connie that he has chosen her. “‘Didn’t you see me put my sign in the air when you walked by?’ … ‘My sign.’ And he drew an X in the air, leaning out toward her” (Oates 127). His sign is an indication that “she is marked for Satan’s test” (White 4). In the Bible the cross with the shape of X is called the crux decussate or Andrew’s cross and carries one of the symbolic meanings of the crosses as instrument of death (ISBE). Connie is marked for Arnold Friend’s devilish test and depending on her decisions will predict the future of her soul.
One more interesting fact that proves the idea of Arnold Friend being a seductive Satan is that he works gradually on Connie’s soul by applying threat and mental pressure. According to the literature critic Terry White, Arnold Friend possesses the demonic image from folklore and literature: “the Demon will come in disguise, ageless fiend that he is, and he must be invited inside – he cannot take a soul by force” (4). Arnold Friend gradually applies tension and threats to Connie, but he also waits until she willingly succumbs to his power. When he was coming closer to her house, Connie cried out that she will call the police if he will not stop, but instead of backing off, he said: “‘…honey, I’m not coming in there but you are coming out here. You know why?’”(Oates 131). The house is the representation of a safe place. Even though her soul is vulnerable to the seductions of the devil, as long she is at home she is safe. Coming out of the house means conceding to the power of the devil. Arnold Friend had never crossed the line of sanctuary of her house: “Arnold Friend was saying from the door, ‘That’s a good girl. Put the phone back’” (Oates 134). Connie’s inability to call for help is a sign of her surrender to the power of Satan. According to Terry White, her collapse on the floor in the house is a sign of submission and defeat to the higher power (4). Finally, she completely gives up to the supernatural powers of Arnold Friend: “She watched herself push the door slowly open…watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited” (Oates 135). This sentence also gives us a feeling that she divides her being in two: her body went out to Arnold Friend, and her soul was watching her doing it. This supports the fact that “Connie, in capitulating to Friend, is not simply surrendering her virginal innocence, but bowing to the absolute forces which her youthful coquetry cannot direct – absolute forces over which she has no control” (Urbanski 202). Connie in the end envisions herself detaching from reality and renouncing her virtue.
Another interesting fact that supports the idea of religious motives in the story is the theme of sexual cause of seduction. In the history of Christianity, sexual desire and pleasure was strictly sinful. On the other hand, “the absence of sexuality and sexual activity also can be important in asserting divine privilege and power” (Denison 1). The blessed Mary in Christianity was a virgin even after she conceived and gave birth to Jesus. In the story Connie lost her power and dignity by surrendering her virginity to the devil, Arnold Friend. Connie’s biggest desire to explore her sexuality was a weakness as well as a chance for the devil to prey on her innocence and her vulnerability.
In conclusion, Arnold Friend is an allegoric image of the demon that possesses all the powers common to the demon in Christian religion. The major role in the story plays the theme of the existential choice between right and wrong that cause the occurrence of a devil in human form, Arnold Friend. The Cultural Revolution in the American society had changed the moral values among the people, especially young people who became vulnerable to the dangers of misinterpretation of new values: popular music, love, sexuality and freedom. Arnold Friend uses the passion of the new music and the desire to explore sexuality as a tool to achieve his devilish work. His strange appearance, name and behavior throughout the story insinuate a demonic spirit. He marks his victim with his sign to be chosen for Satan’s test. Arnold Friend works diligently targeting young innocent girl violating her physically and emotionally which again reveals his ulterior motives and the work of an evil. In the end Connie is unable to resist the seduction and surrenders to the power of Arnold Friend which results not only in physical rape but also moral degradation.
“Cross” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE). Bible History Online: 2009. Retrieved 08 June 2009. http://www.bible-history.com/
Denison, J. Barbara. “Sexuality and Fertility”. Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Jr. Ed. H. Swatos. Alta Mira Press: 1998. Retrieved 02,June,2009. http://hirr.hartsem.edu/ency/Sexuality.htm
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Urbanski, Marie Mitchell Olesen. “Existential Allegory: Joyce Carol Oates ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’.” Studies in Short Fiction. 200 – 203. Rpt. In Contempory Literary Criticism. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale Research, 1979. 200 – 203. Literature Resources from Gale. Gale. LaGuardia Community College Library. 13 May 2009.
“View Name: Arnold.” Behind The Name The Etymology and History of First. 14 May 2009. Retrieved 02 June 2009. http://www.behindthename.com/name/arnold
White, Terry. “Allegorical Evil, Existentialist Choice in O’Connor, Oates and Styron”. The Midwest Quarterly. 34.4 (Summer 1993): p.383. Literature Resources from Gale. Gale. LaGuardia Community College Library. 14 May 2009.