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In Joyce Carol Oates story, Connie is, at first, a stereotypical teenage girl, superficial, self-centered, vain, and deceitful. As she makes the transition from girlhood to womanhood, she detours into her "trashy daydreams" and her duality of nature:
She wore a pulover jersey blouse that looked one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home. Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk that could be childlike and bobing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head....
The music that "made everything so good" is always in the background of Connie's head, as she feels it is like the music at a church service, "something to depend upon."
Finally, however, Connie's trashy daydreams and music materialize in the shape of Arnold Friend, who drives up to her house where she is alone, having refused to accompany her family to a barbeque at her aunt's. In a vehicle suggestive of the "magic whirling ship" of Bob Dylan's song, "Mr. Tambourine Man," Connie finds herself reflected in the "tiny metallic world" of Arnold's sunglasses. Without the rs in his name, the man who is older than he at first appears is An old Fiend, the embodiment of her trashy daydreams to extreme. Faced with the psychological horror dealt her by Arnold, Connie shakes herself from her hedonism and becomes, as Oates herself states in an article, capable of "a heroic gesture": She sacrifices herself and gets into Friend's car so that her family will be unharmed upon their return home. As she rides away, Connie faces the existential question of the story's title, perhaps in a new order: "where have you been, where are you going?"
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