Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Of all Joyce Carol Oates’s stories, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” has generated the most critical commentary and the most discussion. After it was originally published, Oates added the dedication to Bob Dylan for his song “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” (where the title question occurs), a song she called “very beautiful, very disturbing,” and which recalled to her the legend of Death and the Maiden. The story itself moves from intense psychological realism to surreal myth.
The story starts innocently enough with a description of the fifteen-year-old Connie, who, like many adolescent girls, sleepwalks through life listening to music only she seems to hear. Connie and her friends frequent the mall, and she has begun some kind of sexual experimentation and has been with boys “the way it was in movies and promised in songs.”
The mythic journey begins one hot Sunday afternoon when Connie is home alone—having refused to accompany her family to a barbecue—and two boys in an open jalopy pull into her driveway. She recognizes one of them from the mall the night before, but she knows neither and, as she talks with the driver through her screen door, the scene becomes more and more dreamlike. The driver introduces himself as “Arnold Friend” and his passenger as “Ellie,” but something is wrong about both of them. For one thing, Arnold’s language—the rambling patter with which he assaults her—is out-of-date. In...
(The entire section is 490 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Joyce Carol Oates’s story collection Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Selected Early Stories contains many of the author’s award-winning tales published between 1964 and 1977. This volume provides access to some of Oates’s best works from editions no longer in print. In the afterword, Oates reminds her readers that “writers are time travelers” whose fictions reflect the identities of the writers and create art from imagination and experience.
The volume contains seven sections representing six of Oates’s early compilations and two previously uncollected stories. The contents are organized chronologically, beginning with two stories from Oates’s first collection, By the North Gate (1963). The remainder includes works from Upon the Sweeping Flood (1966), The Wheel of Love (1970), Marriages and Infidelities (1972), The Goddess and Other Women (1974), and Night-Side (1977). The uncollected stories “The Molesters” (1968) and “Silkie” (1972) complete the volume.
Oates’s poetic prose style uses much sensory detail. Her characters endure the “hot smell” of the sun and “dream while awake.” Oates’s protagonists often experience anxiety and isolation—helpless pawns in a hostile world. The title story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is Oates’s most frequently anthologized tale. It features an adolescent, Connie, who is seduced and...
(The entire section is 401 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The world in which Connie lives is dominated by Hollywood, popular music, shopping plazas, and fast-food stands. For Connie and her friends, evenings spent with a boy, eating hamburgers, drinking Cokes, and making out in a dark alley seem like heaven, filled with promises of love sweet and gentle, “the way it was in the movies.” Clearly, Connie’s parents do not understand the significance of her adolescent daydreams and activities. Her mother constantly nags at her for spending too much time in front of a mirror and for not being as steady and reliable as her twenty-four-year-old, unmarried sister. Her father appears as uninvolved in her life as the other fathers who drop off their daughters and friends at the local hangout never question their evening’s activities when they pick them up.
One hot summer Sunday, Connie chooses to remain at home alone while her parents and sister go to a barbecue at an aunt’s house. Suddenly “an open jalopy, painted a bright gold” comes up the driveway. Her heart pounding, Connie hangs on to the kitchen door as she banters with the two boys in the jalopy, who invite her for a ride. The driver, Arnold Friend, saw her at the drive-in the night before and had “wagged a finger and laughed,” saying “Gonna get you, baby” in response to Connie’s smirk. At first, Connie is tempted by his invitation; she “liked the way he was dressed, which was the way all of them dressed: tight faded jeans stuffed into...
(The entire section is 470 words.)