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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