Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
On a literal level, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is a spine-chilling tale of rape and murder with a plot carefully controlled to create suspense. On a figurative level, it is an allegory of lost innocence, the screen door symbolizing the fragile threshold between childhood dreams and adult experience, between romantic illusions of love and the brutal reality of adult sexuality. Connie’s “friend” turns out to be a “fiend”; her vague dream-lover arrives masked in the familiar trappings of her world, only to reveal the face of lust and violence beneath the false facade.
On a still deeper symbolic level, Connie’s experience itself becomes a metaphor for American naïveté and vulnerability. In this story, as in much of her fiction, Oates explores the moral poverty of American popular culture and the ways in which it leaves her characters defenseless against powerful forces of evil. For Connie, “the bright-lit, fly-infested restaurant” is a “sacred building” and the omnipresent music is like a “church service” always in the background, something on which she can depend. As if to parody Christian symbolism, Oates describes the “grinning boy,” holding a hamburger aloft, which caps the bottle-shaped restaurant. It is here that Connie finds the “haven and blessing” otherwise missing in her life. Oates shows her readers how teenagers have created a strict code of dress, behavior, and language to fill the void left...
(The entire section is 442 words.)
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The tale of an insecure, romantic teenage girl drawn into a situation of foreboding violence, ''Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" presents several themes that arise from the interaction of sharply drawn characters engaged in psychological manipulation.
Appearances and Reality
Connie prides herself as a skilled flirt who has never been in a situation she could not handle. She feels confident when Arnold Friend arrives at her door while she is alone in the house: ''Who the hell do you think you are?'' she asks. Mistaking him for the type of boy she frequently attracts, she thinks she recognizes him from the sound of his car's horn, his clothing and physical appearance, and the line of banter with which he attempts to lure her into his car. Both Arnold and Connie contribute to these erroneous first impressions. Arnold assumes a role as a teenage Romeo although he is much older, and Connie accepts his facade because of her fondness for the ''trashy daydreams'' her mother accuses her of subscribing to.
Because the story is told from Connie's perspective (although she is not the narrator), readers see the gradual dismantling of these first impressions through her eyes. She realizes that Arnold's hair may be a wig, that his tan is the result of makeup, and that his boots "must have been stuffed with something so that he would seem taller." Though the veracity of these observations is never proven, they reveal Connie's realization that Arnold...
(The entire section is 762 words.)