Essays and Criticism
The Presence of Evil in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
Since Joyce Carol Oates's phenomenal appearance on the literary scene in the mid-1960s, she has certainly been one of America's most prolific and talked-about writers. The author of more than twenty novels and numerous volumes of short stories, poems, plays, and essays, she has drawn the attention of readers and critics alike. Whatever one's opinion of Oates's work may be, it is not possible to ignore her importance as a writer, particularly one who chronicles life in twentieth-century America. Oates has been compared to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Honore de Balzac, and William Faulkner for her efforts to portray an entire culture of people. It is not surprising that she has been compared to these greats, for Oates also tries to explain some of the mysteries of life, believing that a ''writer's job, ideally, is to act as the conscience of his race."
In her essays on D.H. Lawrence and W.B. Yeats, Oates has expressed her interest in "the richness of pain and chaos." Certainly, these elements are apparent in Oates's own writing, and many critics have commented on the bleak nature of her fiction and on the many unpleasant things that happen to her characters. Oates has noted, ''People frequently misunderstand serious art because it is often violent and unattractive. I wish the world were a prettier place, but I wouldn't be honest as a writer if I ignored the actual conditions around me." These words apply particularly well to one of her best-known stories, which was...
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Connie's Tambourine Man: A New Reading of Arnold Friend
The critical reception of Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'' reveals a consistent pattern for reducing the text to a manageable, univocal reading. Generally, this pattern involves two assumptions: Arnold must symbolize Satan and Connie must be raped and murdered. No critic has yet questioned Joyce Wegs' assertion that "Arnold is clearly a symbolic Satan." Marie Urbanski argues that Arnold's "feet resemble the devil's cloven hoofs," Joan Winslow calls the story "an encounter with the devil," Tom Quirk maintains the story describes a "demoniac character," and Christina Marsden Gillis refers to "the satanic visitor's incantation." Wegs' assertion that Arnold is "a criminal with plans to rape and probably murder Connie" is also accepted at face value. Gillis assumes that Arnold ''leads his victim ... to a quick and violent sexual assault," and Quirk refers to "the rape and subsequent murder of Connie." Even though Gretchen Schulz and R. J. R. Rockwood correctly claim that the portrait of Arnold ''is created in the mind of Connie ... and that it exists there only,'' they still persist in having Arnold as a demon and Connie as doomed: "But we know that he is still the Wolf, and that he still intends to 'gobble up' this 'little girl' as soon as he gets the chance. Connie is not going to live happily ever after. Indeed, it would seem that she is not going to live at all."
While all of these critics insist on seeing...
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Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
In a recent essay Joyce M. Wegs brilliantly establishes the satanic identity of the sinister Arnold Friend, young Connie's abductor and probable rapist-murderer in Joyce Carol Oates's widely anthologized short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" On another level, the psychological level, she points out that Arnold is "the incarnation of Connie's unconscious erotic desires and dreams, but in uncontrollable nightmare form.'' I would go a step further and suggest that, on still another level, the whole terrifying episode involving Arnold Friend is itself a dream—a fantasy that Connie falls into on a sleepy Sunday afternoon when she is left alone in the house and decides to spend the entire day drying her hair. For those of her readers who don't believe in devils, Oates has made the willing suspension of disbelief somewhat easier by imparting to her story a dreamlike, unreal atmosphere that makes it possible for the reader to view Connie's scary encounter with Arnold as a dream-vision or "daymare"—one in which Connie's intense desire for total sexual experience runs headlong into her innate fear of such experience. We must remember that Connie is only fifteen; and the collision is gorgeous.
First of all, for all the talk of sex and boys in the story, we have no clear evidence that Connie is not still a virgin. Sophisticated, yes—but only in the most superficial ways, involving the heightening of her physical charms. Even the brief time...
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"Don't You Know Who I Am?": The Grotesque in Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
Joyce Carol Oates's ability to absorb and then to transmit in her fiction the terror which is often a part of living in America today has been frequently noted and admired. For instance, Walter Sullivan praises her skill by noting that ''horror resides in the transformation of what we know best, the intimate and comfortable details of our lives made suddenly threatening." Although he does not identify it as such, Sullivan's comment aptly describes a classic instance of a grotesque intrusion: a familiar world suddenly appears alien. Oates frequently evokes the grotesque in her fiction, drawing upon both its traditional or demonic and its contemporary or psychological manifestations. In the prize-winning short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," Oates utilizes the grotesque in many of its forms to achieve a highly skillful integration of the multiple levels of the story and, in so doing, to suggest a transcendent reality which reaches beyond surface realism to evoke the simultaneous mystery and reality of the contradiction of the human heart. Full of puzzling and perverse longings, the heart persists in mixing lust and love, life and death, good and evil. Oates's teenage protagonist, Connie, discovers that her dream love-god also wears the face of lust, evil and death.
Centering the narrative on the world of popular teenage music and culture, Oates depicts the tawdry world of drive-in restaurants and shopping plazas blaring with music with a...
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