Joyce Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”
“Where are you going, Where have you been” is a short story composed by Joyce Carol Oates. The narrative is fairly friendly on the surface. The plot follows a fifteen-year-old girl called Connie who is a typical teen – self-consumed, and shallow. She wastes her days at the mall, boy watching and listening to music. However, it becomes evident that Oates’ story has a seemingly dark undertone. This short story is a ‘realistic allegory,’ and Oates utilizes characters in the narrative to represent abstract ideas. A common theme as conveyed in Oats’ work is her belief that the twentieth century is spiritually empty.
Oates’ short story is centered on a fifteen-year-old girl called Connie. Connie is depicted as a fairly ordinary teenager. Connie searches for an identity that best suits her, challenging her parents, particularly her mother, and going to extremes on all she does. One night, Connie is out accompanied by her friends at a drive-in restaurant when she catches eyes of a young lad seated at a gold jalopy on the drive’s entrance. Their eyes connect for a limited period, then Connie exits and does not see him for the remainder of the night. Days later, Connie’s parents and particularly dull sister go off to her aunt’s barbeque, but Connie stays back. After washing her hair, Connie hears a car pull up the driveway. She peeps out and spots the gold jalopy repainted sloppily using red paint, with what seems like two teenagers inside. The driver steps out and introduces himself as Arnold Friendly, the young lad Connie had briefly seen the night before, and then proceeds to ask her to come along for a ride. Initially, Connie refuses, and she starts noticing several unusual things about Friendly. Connie first realizes that Friendly is not eighteen as he initially stated but approaching his thirties. Friendly’s “Young” friend looks like he is in his forties.
Connie is gripped by a cold terror. As Connie and Friendly converse more, Friendly becomes increasingly hostile, claiming he knows all about Connie and her family. Friendly further asserts that Connie is his lover; she just does not recognize it yet. Connie observes that Arnold walks as if he has stuffed his shoes with something to make him appear taller. Additionally, he places his sunglasses right on his head like one wearing a wig. He mixes cultural references but most alarmingly is the fact that Friendly and his friend are much older than Connie initially thought. Mild flirtation paves the way for fear. Arnold’s tone remains calm; however, his words become violent and overtly sexual. Connie attempts to defend herself against Friendly by threatening to phone the police. However, Arnold warns if she picks the phone, he will enter the house behind her, plus no fragile glass door will separate him from her. Arnold further describes in vivid detail how an open fire would cause Connie to “run into my arms.” After irrelevant comments and more threats by Friendly, Connie was fed up and ran outside to phone the police, but upon picking the phone, Connie freezes in horror. At this climactic moment, all fades out for Connie, and she collapsed onto the floor. Upon recovery, Connie spots Friendly standing at the door-frame. Friendly coolly instructs her to place the phone back. Without uttering a word, Connie places back the phone. Arnold then instructs Connie to step outside and come along with him for a ride; Connie jadedly agrees. The story concludes with Connie peering out the doorway, deliberating about her future, and its possibilities.
The story’s characters are static, each portrayed briefly, and their persona never actually expounded upon. First, we have Connie (fifteen-year-old), struggling to discover her actual identity and added to that, displaying the typical deeds of a girl her age. Connie exhibits the variable, often perplexing acts associated with adolescent females making the changeover to womanhood. Connie defies her parents, in such a passive-aggressive manner, portraying two entirely dethatched personalities: one for when she is surrounded by her friends, another for her family. Additionally, Connie is a hopeless romantic, influenced by lyrics to well-known songs. But this romanticism does not express itself in her boyfriends, who “vanished into a single face that was an idea and not a face.” Arnold Friend conveyed using indirect characterization, undertakes numerous identities throughout the reading. Arnold uses psychological manipulation to abduct girls like Connie and lyrics to popular songs to make Connie core comfortable. Arnold is slowly broken down into a man in his thirties who uses props and makeup to look more appealing to Connie.
Arnold’s friend’s (Ellie) personality has also been different as portrayed in the story. Initially, Ellie seems like Arnold’s harmless follower; however, his small menacing moments drastically transform how the reader views Ellie. Ellie is often direct in confirming Connie’s chivvy fears whereas Arnold is more oblique. First, Ellie offers to “yank the phone” to intercept Connie’s attempt to get assistance, he then puts forth a weapon which Friendly speedily scolds him for and instructs him to store away. Ultimately, Ellie is seen as hostile as is Arnold. June, Connie’s sister is the opposite of Connie. Connie is eye-catching and beautiful; June is “chunky and plain.” Additionally, June lacks the rebellious nature conveyed by Connie. Connie sees herself as her sister’s superior because of her beauty.
To me, the story was a symbolic one symbolizing life and how we, as aging individuals, ultimately lose the innocence and control we believed we initially possessed. Arnold Friend depicts the sins associated with the outside world and how no matter our preparedness, the outside world is extremely out recalcitrant. Beginning with certainties of a bright future, we all are eventually consumed by the outside world. Oates’ story can be veneered on numerous lessons or morals along with being utilized to help highlight a point, most of which deal greatly with good and evil.
Ultimately, Oates’ story is essentially a matter of the Good vs. Evil battle where the superior slyness of evil conveyed juxtaposing to the innocence of good. The story’s open-ended ending lets the reader reflect on their weakness, insecurities, and conflicts. And we, the audience wonder whether the evil hovering over the world is going to get us too. Additionally, the reading’s open-ended ending gives the reader a limitless number of interpretations depending on how the reader feels the story should conclude. Overall, the utilization of perspective contributed to the already augmenting suspension thus resulting in an unforgettable story.