How does "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol OatesĀ confirm, challenge or expand my prior understanding? How can I evaluate the work's artistic effectiveness and why?

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is considered one of Joyce Carol Oates' most indelible short stories. Like much of her work that is not specifically in the horror genre, it has a dark tone that suggests horrific events just at its perimeter. It is clearly a coming of age story, in that it explores a teenage girl's sexual awakening. But often such stories are sentimental, nostalgic, or otherwise steeped in sympathetic emotions.

This story portrays its protagonist Connie as selfish and often foolish. She is sophisticated but also naive and takes risks that land her in dangerous situations. One of the techniques that makes the story particularly memorable is its ambiguity. When Connie decides to go off for a ride with Arnold Friend, despite her revulsion and fear, it is not clear how things will end up for her. Will this be how she loses her virginity? Will she wind up dead? Is that ending a metaphor for the uncertain terrain of adolescence? Is she displaying autonomy by choosing an older man for her first sexual experience? There are many implications beneath the story's action, and Oates' artistry lies in her ability to suggest these implications without over-explaining the character's state of mind, allowing the setting and descriptions to suggest potential outcomes.

The fact that the story is dedicated to Bob Dylan is a detail that has been the subject of much speculation as well; it is generally agreed upon that the story was inspired by his song "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."