With regard to Joyce Carol Oates' short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?", it has little action. So what moves the narrative forward? What raises the tension?  

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The movement of Joyce Carol Oates' short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" (originally "Death and the Maiden") is unusual.The narration is delivered slowly and precisely, and the building unease seeps into the pages like the smell of skunk on a summer night, defying closed windows and doors.

The portrait Oates paints of Connie, and Oates' choice of words "set the stage" for the story. Connie has...

...a quick nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right.

Connie is only fifteen—impressionable—looking to find proof that she is "good enough." We can see why she has more than her share of adolescent angst.

Her mother...was always after Connie.

"Why don't you keep your room clean like your sister? How've you got your hair fixed—what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don't see your sister using that junk."

Connie is constantly compared to her sister and found "wanting": not good enough.

Connie acts much differently outside of her house. 

Connie had long dark blond hair that drew anyone's eye to it...She wore a pull-over jersey blouse that looked one way at home and another way when she was away from home.

The narrator also notes, and this is very important...

Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home...  
Her walk can be "childlike and bobbing," or she moves slowly and gracefully as if she is listening to something in her head. Her "smirking" mouth is "bright and pink on these evenings out." Even her laugh is "high-pitched and nervous anywhere else, like the jingling of the charms on her bracelet."   Connie is walking the line between the world of childhood and adulthood, and she is inexperienced—out of the house she puts on an act, pretending to be what she wants to be. Even the bracelet attracts attention with its "jingling." She is trying to draw attention to herself: unfortunately, Arnold Friend is watching.   Connie and her friends sneak to the drive-in restaurant where "the older kids hung out." The cars cruise in and out, and the diner is "fly-infested." These images foreshadow what is to come. It is here that Connie draws the attention of the "boy" in the gold car.   Later, when Arnold shows up at her house—talking through the screen—once again, the flies are there, symbolic of death. His "cruising" has been like a hunter stalking its prey...or the way a snake undulates through the grass.    The story progresses slowly to accentuate the way Arnold gently lures Connie: like a snake hypnotizing its victim into a sense of the inevitable. He disguises his eyes, those "windows to the soul." And he is soulless—the glasses cover his threat. Arnold slowly gives clues that Connie understands—he knows no one is around—
"[Your father] ain't coming. He's at barbecue."   "How do you know that?"
Still Connie doesn't lock the door. He becomes more predatory by the minute, but her threats to call for help are empty.    In the end Connie goes with Arnold quietly to her death; we realize that we have been seduced slowly as she has been.
Yes, I'm your lover. You don't know what that is but you will..."
There is no overt action, but there is inference and innuendo. We find ourselves mesmerized by Arnold's words—and devastated to realize someone so evil could win in the end—but then we recall Connie is only fifteen...only wishing she was older. Now she never will be.  

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question