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Discuss the role of the grotesque in Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where...

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mjfirth2 | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 19, 2011 at 6:17 AM via web

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Discuss the role of the grotesque in Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 19, 2011 at 8:50 PM (Answer #1)

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You might like to consider the description of Arnold Friend in response to this question. He, through his appearance and through his activity could be considered to be "grotesque." When Connie sees Arnold Friend, he is described as having "shaggy, shabby black hair that looked crazy as a wig," with mirrored sunglasses that make it impossible to see his eyes, until he takes them off, when his eyes are described as being "like chips of broken glass that catch the light in an amiable way." He walks in a strange way, having to balance himself to prevent himself from falling and is a muscular, short man. Some critics argue that this manner of walking suggests that Arnold Friend is actually a devil-type figure, and that his feet are actually hooves. This notion is reinforced by the way that Arnold Friend is so close to "Arch-Fiend."

In action, we can also say that Arnold Friend is grotesque in the way he uses language to prey on Connie and to almost hypnotise her into doing what he wants her to do. We are told that Arnold speaks in a "simple lilting voice, exactly as if was reciting the words to a song." Given the importance of music in the story in symbolising Connie's fantasy world, Arnold's speech thus is very powerful in representing the kind of adult sexuality that Connie plays at experiencing. Note the end effect of Arnold's speech upon Connie:

She felt her pounding heart. Her hand seemed to enclose it. She thought for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that wasn't really hers either.

There is an element of the grotesque in the way that Arnold Friend uses language to produce this effect in Connie. Therefore we can argue that Arnold Friend displays the grotesque in his appearance and actions.

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