Identify the significance of "dreams" to the overall meaning or theme of the story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" by Joyce Carol Oates.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Joyce Carol Oates based her short story on an actual serial killer   from the late 1950s. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" describes one naive girl's fall into the hands of the wrong Friend.

The protagonist Connie is fifteen years old and pretty.  The story takes place in the summer, so Connie has time on her hands.  She spends time daydreaming about boys and typical girl stuff.  Her relationship with her mother epitomizes the adolescent/mother quarrel. Connie also does not like her boring sister, June.

There are two schools of thought about "dreams" in the story.

One set of critics believe that the entire last sequence with Arnold Friend, Ellie, and Connie is a dream-like nightmare.  It is a lazy Sunday afternoon with the rest of the family gone, and Connie naps about the possibility of an encounter with Arnold Friend. 

Connie sat with her eyes closed in the sun, dreaming and dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love, the caresses of love ... She shook her head as if to get awake.

Listening to music and feeling the glow of young womanhood, Connie may have slipped into a dreamy world and encounters the horror of Friend. To further the argument, Connie hears the same music playing on her radio that she hears coming from Friend's car. Some of the action appears to be rather bizarre and nightmarish.   Connie had plenty of chances to attempt to get away from Arnold.  Further, if she were awake, she certainly could have contacted the police. Nightmares do not lend themselves to rational thinking.

The other side of the interpretation is that the references to dreams are just that...Like any young girl, she dreams about boys, her future, and even sexual encounters. But the last segment of the story with Friend, actually happened.   

When she saw Friend at the drive-in, he told her he would get her.  After that, like any good serial killer, he begins to watch and stalk her and her family.  Oates followed the real serial killer's story step by step until the end, so the story does have a factual basis.

Oates encourages the reader to took for multiple levels in this story and to consider Arnold and Connie at more than face value by her repeated emphasis on the question of identity.

Friend's appearance is bizarre although that is not unusual in a serial killer.  His wig and shoes come from the other killer Charles Schmid who dressed and acted as strangely as does Arnold. 

There are certainly religious overtones in the story. It is all seen through the eyes of this virginal, naive, girl facing what appears to be a comical "devil" on earth. 

Connie loses all of individuality and becomes what Arnold wants her to be: a victim. A girl who through his manipulation becomes his girl. A dream or reality?--What Arnold does with Connie the reader can only imagine.

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