In Oates' short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," is Arnold Friend the devil—purely evil? Or is Arnold Friend a Christ-like figure?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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As with any kind of art, perceptions may vary for each person interacting with it based upon his or her personal experiences. Though our interpretations are subjective, I have no doubt that Arnold Friend is pure, unadulterated evil in Joyce Carol Oates' short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

First, this tale is based on a true story of a serial killer in Tucson, Arizona, in the 1960s. However, setting this aside, there is adequate evidence in the story to support this perception.

The first time Arnold sees Connie he says, "Gonna get you, baby." Had this been her only encounter with him, the statement could be ignored. However, when he shows up at her house, it takes on a fearful meaning.

There is something hypnotic about Friend. He is like a snake, inducing a trance-like state in its victim before moving in for the kill. When he appears, he is wearing a disguise: make-up to make him look younger, boots to make him appear taller, and skin as pale as a corpse. His sweet words cover his criminal intent. 

He spoke in a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting the words to a song. His smile assured her that everything was fine.

Many literary critics point out the several aspects of his person that make Friend seem more like "fiend."

"Didn't you see me put my sign in the air when you walked by?"

"What sign?"

"My sign." And he drew an X in the air, leaning out toward her.

Biblically, the devil is called "the prince of the power of the air." (Ephesians 2:2) From Arnold's reference to his sign and the air, the reader can infer that he is the devil or his emissary. 

It is easy to support the sense that Friend has no good intensions:

The foreshadowing statements made by Arnold when he says that he wants to "come inside you where it's all secret" and show Connie "what love is like," imply rape...

Friend also threatens Connie's family, while making his intentions quite clear:

It's all over for you here, so come on out. You don't want your people in any trouble, do you?

A final inference to evil can be found at the story's end when Arnold tells her to get up and start moving—speaking to her as if putting her under an evil spell—evil because she is going with him against her will:

"Now turn this way. That's right. Come over her to me..." His worlds were not angry but only part of an incantation. The incantation was kindly.

Though Connie is too innocent to know exactly the kind of person Friend is, she senses enough that she is in danger and that she will never come home again:

I'm not going to see my mother again.

And...

I'm not going to sleep in my bed again.

Arnold Friend is anything but a friend, despite his assurances to the contrary. His intentions are evil and frightening, as is the ease with which he manipulates Connie to do his bidding.

 

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