Describe three characters from "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?", Joyce Carol Oates created her story based on a real murder story. Her protagonist and antagonist clash, supplying the reader with a great deal to think about at the end of the story.

The heroine or protagonist in the story, Connie, finds her self in the summer with not much to do.  She is fifteen and pretty with all the angst of a teenager.  Like many teens of the 1960s, Connie listens to music, reads magazines, and daydreams about romance with the boys. That describes Connie. Self-centered, superficial, pouty, argumentative, and irritating--that is how her mother would have described Connie.  She and her mother do not get along.  Nor does Connie like her older sister, June.

Connie's delight is to go to the shopping plaza and hangout with the boys.  When she breaks the rules, Connie pays for it by catching the eye of Arnold Friend. When she meets Friend again, Connie grows up a bit and steps up to save her family.  She offers herself up as the sacrificial lamb to this devil on earth who will not let her go. 

Connie's mother plays an important part in the story.  Her purpose is to point up the typical qualities and faults of the typical teenager.  The relationship between Connie and her mother sometimes finds closeness but more often there is a strain between the two.  Connie's mother was once pretty; she knows the problems that young girls face when the boys desire them. 

Connie has a level of promiscuity that her mother senses, so she nags at her in an effort to show her what can happen if a girl goes too far.  Wanting to trust her but knowing that she does not always tell her the truth, the mother questions herself about to how  handle this teenager. Demonstrating a stronger bond than even Connie knew they had, Connie cries for her mother at the end of the story.

Arnold Friend's name falls into the category of irony.  He is far from a friend to anyone.  Crude, offensive, sexual, and lethal---this is Arnold.  His physicality comes across as comical.  Everything about him is bizarre.  Arnold is fiendish.  In some respects, his talk portrays him as a killer already as he describes his killing an old woman.  On this Sunday, rape and murder are on his mind.  His victim smiled at the wrong person and attracted his attention.  Then, he begins to watch and stalk both her and her family. He will get his way.   

Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Arnold Friend is that he blends elements of romance—"I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl"—and violence—"We ain't leaving until you come with us"—

There are  almost supernatural elements about Arnold.  He will not cross over the threshold of the house.  He has difficulty standing up in his shoes.  He knows so much about her and has never really met her.  Who or what he is does not matter so much as his ability to convince Connie that she has no choice but to come with him. 

Like a true heroine, Connie steps up and saves her family.  Hopefully, Arnold will relent and give Connie back to her family.  It is left by the author to the reader's imagination.

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