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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" (1966) is one of the hundreds of short stories written by author Joyce Carol Oates (1938-). Arguably one of her most famous pieces, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" remains an important piece of the puzzle that is American literature.

The short story, written during the 1960s in the center of social change, represents much of the ideas of 1960s America and can also serve as an allegorical tale about death and evil. Centered on a young teenage girl asserting her independence, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is an interesting read with roots in reality and fantasy and confounds audiences today. Keep reading for the analysis and more of "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?".

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been, image of Joyce Carol Oates, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Joyce Carol Oates authored “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

Joyce Carol Oates noted that "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is a realistic allegory.1 An allegory is where the actions and characters have a literal meaning but also represent abstract ideas, virtues, or entities. Arnold Friend is often interpreted as being death or even a symbol of the devil.

As you read, pay attention to the details associated with Arnold. What descriptions and diction does Oates employ to communicate he is nefarious?

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" Summary

The story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates begins in the normal world. Centered on a 15-year-old girl, Connie. She is a normal teenager: at odds with her family, evades responsibility, and obsessed with appearances, herself, and her social life. Connie's mother is critical of her, chastising Connie for admiring herself in the mirror and being messy. Connie's older sister, June, is a contrasting figure for Connie, as she is responsible and obedient. June's evenings out with friends enable Connie to go out as well.

Connie's evening out is uneventful at first, as she typically goes out with her best friend. One evening, she leaves her friend and goes to have dinner with a boy, Eddie. As she is walking through the parking lot with Eddie, Connie spots a man in a gold car. He smirks at Connie and sinisterly states, "Gonna get you, baby." Alarmed, Connie hurries away. This marks her first sighting of Arnold Friend, who is initially portrayed as young, bold, and attractive.

Summer continues, and one Sunday evening her family leaves while Connie stays home to wash her hair. She dozes off in the sun, then goes inside to cool down. While inside, Connie is shocked to hear a car in her driveway. Peering out the window, she spots a gold convertible and recognizes the driver as the man she saw in the parking lot.

Where are you going, where have you been, gold convertible, StudySmarterFig. 2 - A gold convertible car, similar to the one described in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

The man introduces himself as Arnold Friend and his companion as Ellie. Friend has a smiling face painted on his car, with his name written on it. Connie notices he is unsteady on his feet. Arnold tries but cannot persuade her to get into his car. He suspiciously knows a lot of information about her and can explain what her family is currently doing. He also lies to her (revealing he is manipulative) when she asks how old he is. Noticing both he and Ellie are much older than her, Connie gets scared.

She backs away, and after being threatened, she locks the door to the house. He continues to threaten her, telling her he will harm her family when they return and that he will hurt her if she touches the phone to call the police. She runs to grab the phone, and in a confusing mix of actions, she feels as though he is "stabbing her" with her own breath. Although it is unclear what happened, Connie sits on the floor, visibly traumatized, while Friend looks on.

Friend tells her to hang up the phone and exit the house. She obediently complies while feeling as though she is having an out-of-body experience. Feeling empty, she hears Friend say, "my sweet little blue-eyed girl", while her brown eyes gaze out at the land before her. It is an area she "did not recognize except to know that she was going to it."

Where are you going, where have you been, highway, StudySmarterFig. 3 - At the end of the story, Connie doesn’t recognize the journey before her but knows she must take it.

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" Characters

CharacterDescription
ConnieConnie, the protagonist, is a 15-year-old girl. She is self-absorbed and easily manipulated.
Connie's motherConnie's mom is mostly a flat character in the story that causes conflict for Connie. Their relationship is strained, but it is her mother Connie calls for when she is attacked, hinting that Connie is still a child in need of security.
JuneJune is Connie's older sister and serves as a foil.
Arnold FriendArnold Friend, the antagonist, is an older man who manipulates his appearance by wearing a wig and tight jeans to appear younger than he is.
Ellie OscarEllie Oscar is Arnold's companion. He remains mostly out of the action of the story and seems nonchalant about what is happening.

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" Theme

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" deals with religious and moral concepts. Oates created this allegorical tale to help expose important concepts and even gave evil a face in Arnold Friend.

The Destructive Power of Vanity

The central character in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is Connie, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. She spends her time asserting her independence, fighting with her parents, and staring in the mirror admiring herself. The name Connie is a derivative of the name Constance. Borrowed from the French word "constantem," Constance means resolute, devoted, and faithful.

However, our protagonist, Connie, is none of those things at the onset of the story. She is rebellious and described as having a "nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors," a habit that shows her vanity. Despite her mother's criticism, Connie maintained an awareness that "she was pretty and that was everything."

Connie is unaware of the adult world or how to navigate in reality because she lacks guidance from her parents. Her mother is critical, sarcastic, and more interested in Connie's habits than in guiding her daughter. Connie's father is a detached figure that works, eats, reads the paper, and sleeps. Her superficial relationships, even with her immediate family, make her ill-prepared for adversity and unable to recognize danger until it is too late.

Revealing a decay in the concept of religion and familial duty, she shirks attending church and decides to stay home when uninterested in a family barbeque. This rejection of the family isolates Connie and leaves her vulnerable. When a strange car arrives, it is not her safety she worries about, but her appearance.

Appearances vs. Reality

In "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" Oates toys with the theme of appearance versus reality. The allegorical tale deals with death by showing a young girl on the cusp of her adult life. Connie is physically attractive, but at her core, she lacks many characteristics that we often look for in a "good" person. She doesn't respect her parents, she is ashamed of her sister, she abandons her friends for a boy, and she acts confident when she is insecure. Her internal self, devoid of a solid moral compass, betrays her outer façade.

Arnold Friend is also a character that appears one way but is another. His name "Friend" is scribbled in a tar-like substance on his gold-painted jalopy. He sweet-talks Connie in an attempt to convince her he is kind, but his expressions, his greasy boots, unsteady footing, and age show through. When Friend arrives, Connie is accepting of him and open in conversation. Arnold gives a "smile [that] assured her that everything was fine" but says antagonizing things. He calls her sister "poor, sad" and her dad fat.

He threatens harm, promises to harm her family, and demands she leave the safety of her home. When he promises he won't enter the house, there is no reason to believe him.

In the winter of 1965-66, a young man, Charles Schmid, made headlines. He had been suspended from high school years earlier for stealing and then never graduated. He began hanging out near the high school, picking up young girls and taking them for rides in his gold convertible. He portrayed himself as a rebel, a self-aware and confident young man who had the style sense of a young Elvis Presley. With the help of accomplices, he ended up murdering three of these girls. He became known as the Pied Piper of Tucson. In 1966 Schmid was convicted and sentenced to die. Before his sentence via the Arizona gas chamber could be carried out, he was killed by another inmate while incarcerated.2

The story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" raises issues plaguing American society at the time it was written. The public was worried about the new genre of music, rock and roll, an emerging teenage population that was sexually aware and active, an increase in teenage runaways as the values of the youth clashed with their more conservative parents, and a rash of serial killers.

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" Analysis

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" has an intricately designed yet familiar plot. At its surface, a young girl falls victim to an older man. Allegorically, it is a tale where death and evil steal youth and the future. The first line of the story is a sign that there is something amiss. "Her name was Connie." This simple statement tells us Connie is gone. The setting is based in reality, but once Friend enters the action, events become fantastical.

While out with her best friend one night, Connie abandons her to have dinner with a young boy, Eddie. During her date with Eddie, the reader and Connie are first introduced to Friend. We see him through Connie's eyes:

It was a boy with shaggy black hair, in a convertible jalopy painted gold. He stared at her and then his lips widened into a grin. Connie slit her eyes at him and turned away, but she couldn't help glancing back and there he was, still watching her. He wagged a finger and laughed and said, "Gonna get you, baby,"

This interaction foreshadows the grotesque conclusion of the story: Arnold does get her. The first thing he utters to her as he wags his finger is threatening. He is staring at her as an animal predator does to the prey. As Connie's family drives off and leaves her alone, she sits watching. She slips into an almost dream-like state, allowing the audience to accept the coming unrealistic happenings.

Connie sat with her eyes closed in the sun, dreaming and dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love, ... the sky was perfectly blue and still. ... She shook her head as if to get awake.

Connie is bathed in light, smiling with thoughts of happiness, love, and tenderness. The visual imagery describing the serene setting, an almost heaven-like oasis with a sky that is "perfectly blue and still" is a stark contrast to the visitor she is about to receive.

Imagery is a descriptive detail that appeals to any of the five senses. Visual imagery appeals to the sense of sight.

... and now she recognized the driver: he had shaggy, shabby black hair that looked crazy as a wig and he was grinning at her.

The driver isn't composed as he was the first time she glimpsed him. He seems rushed and is worried if he is late, as though Connie should expect him. His hair is "shabby" and he looks "crazy." Oates uses meticulously chosen diction to describe Arnold Friend and to signal the audience that something is amiss.

Diction is the specific word choice a writer uses to communicate their tone, or attitude, toward a subject or character.

Arnold Friend speaks differently. He has an accent that is antiquated, and when he uses colloquialisms, he can't find the right one to fit the time period, giving up and even making some of his own. He stands "in a strange way, leaning back against the car as if he were balancing himself." Then, Arnold is described as a predator.

And his face was a familiar face, somehow: the jaw and chin and cheeks slightly darkened because he hadn't shaved for a day or two, and the nose long and hawklike, sniffing as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up and it was all a joke.

The simile comparing him to a hawk hunting, sniffing out the game, and ready to gobble her up shows Connie in danger. As the conversation escalates, Friend's language becomes more aggressive as he refers to people as "fat", "stupid", and "sad."

Connie begins to feel weaker and weaker, indicating that her health is also at stake.

Her heart was almost too big now for her chest and its pumping made sweat break out all over her.

Slowly, Connie is struggling to breathe. As she becomes more and more panicked, her breathing, her mannerisms, and her ability to navigate within her own home changes. She maneuvers in the kitchen but bumps her leg to the point of pain. And she begins to feel

her breath start jerking back and forth in her lungs...

In a final child-like act of desperation, Connie calls out for her mom. Suddenly, she is on the floor, her back wet, and obedient to Arnold. She does as he says, and accepts her fate. Walking out the door of her home, her shelter and heaven, Connie feels "hollow" and in a dreamlike state. She rises from the floor, leaves the kitchen, her home, and walks toward Arnold Friend and the expansive landscape before them.

A simile compares two unlike things using the words "like," "as," or "than."

Did you know? The dedication to Bob Dylan is included because his song "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" played while Oates was writing her allegory. Being that she recognized his song as being about mortality, admired its poetry, and the life her protagonist was about to end, she included the dedication.

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" Symbolism

In true Joyce Carol Oates fashion, the story has potent symbols that reveal wells of meaning beneath the surface.

Arnold Friend and his Boots

One of the most fascinating characters in this short story is the antagonist, Arnold Friend. On the literal level, he is an aggressive character. In the allegorical sense, he is evil, death, or the devil. Associated with darkness, his face hidden behind mirrored glasses, and his eyes squinty, Friend is constantly grinning, but is sinister, evasive, and untrustworthy. His name, with the letter "r" removed, is "an old fiend." He is literally the enemy.

An interesting aspect to note with Arnold is the visual imagery describing his thighs, buttocks, and legs. His "greasy leather boots" may not be boots. Friend has a hard time balancing himself and even relaxing in an upright position. He must stabilize himself against a car, porch post, or door.

She recognized most things about him, the tight jeans that showed his thighs and buttocks and the greasy leather boots and the tight shirt, and even that slippery friendly smile of his...

As the story progresses, the imagery used to describe his legs becomes more obvious as a reference to an animal's hind legs. He is described as the image of the devil, having the legs of a goat with the torso and face of a man. Friend's features are dark, his nose "eaglelike", and his legs can't support his upright stance.

He wobbled in his high boots and grabbed hold of one of the porch posts.

His boots, an unusual fashion choice for the hot summer, are high and awkward. His feet are pointing out and bending awkwardly at the ankles. Constantly losing his balance, he struggles to maintain a posture and is embarrassed when "Connie had seen his boots" and recognizes him for what he is: the oldest fiend, the devil.

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" - Key takeaways

  • "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is a short story written by Joyce Carol Oates.
  • Published in 1966, it reflects some concepts Americans were battling or realizing: the decay of the family, a focus on the superficial, women empowerment and independence, and a move away from religion.
  • "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is often read as an allegorical tale, where Arnold Friend is representative of death or even a symbol of the devil.
  • Although not a true story itself, Oates took inspiration from the real-life situation about American teenage murderer Charles Schmid, who was a serial killer who preyed on young women in 1965-66.
  • The dedication to Bob Dylan is included because his song, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" played while Oates was writing her allegory. Being that she recognized his song as being about mortality, admired its poetry, and the life her protagonist was about to end, she included the dedication.

1. Sjoberg, Leif. An Interview with Joyce Carol Oates. Contemporary Literature. Summer 1982.

2. Moser, Don. The Pied Piper of Tuscon. Life Magazine. March 1966.


References

  1. Fig. 1 - Joyce Carol Oates (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joyce_carol_oates_8333.JPG) by S L O W K I N G. is licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0) (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/)

Frequently Asked Questions about Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" has an intricately designed yet familiar plot. At its surface, a young girl, self-assured and asserting her independence, is on the cusp of womanhood and falls victim to an older man. Allegorically, it is a tale where death, and evil, steals youth and the promise of the future. 

The message of Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" centers around Connie, her interactions with Friend, and how death and evil can take control or steal even the most youthful and beautiful. 

Connie leaves with Arnold Friend.

Oates was inspired by an article she read about the Arizona serial killer, Charles Schmid, known as the Pied Piper of Tucson. 

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" uses visual imagery to describe Connie's youth and vanity and her heaven-like surroundings before she meets Friend. Friend is associated with a lot of visual imagery describing his boots and physical appearance and expressions. 

Final Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Quiz

Question

Who wrote "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"?

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Answer

Joyce Carol Oates wrote "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?".

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Question

When was "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" published? 

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Answer

The short story was published in 1966.

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Question

What influenced the short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"?

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Answer

Oates was influenced by the story of an Arizona serial killer known as the Pied Piper of Tucson. 

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Question

To whom is the story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" dedicated? 

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Answer

Oates dedicated the story to Bob Dylan.

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Question

How does Oates describe "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"?

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Answer

Oates called the "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" realistic allegory.

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Question

What does Arnold Friend symbolize? 

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Answer

Friend symbolizes evil, death, and the devil. 

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Question

Who is the protagonist in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"? 

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Answer

Connie is the protagonist in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?".

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Question

What happens at the end of "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"?

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Answer

Connie leaves with Arnold Friend. 

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Question

What is the plot to "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"? 

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Answer

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" has an intricately designed yet familiar plot. At its surface, a young girl, self-assured and asserting her independence, is on the cusp of womanhood and falls victim to an older man. Allegorically, it is a tale where death, and evil, steals youth and the promise of the future. 

Show question

Question

Where is Connie's family during her interaction with Friend? 

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Answer

Connie's family went to a barbecue that Connie was not interested in attending.

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