illustration of a young girl, Connie, reflected in the sunglasses of a man, Arnold Friend

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

by Joyce Carol Oates

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Describe Connie's relationship with her mother, father, and sister.

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There is no intimacy or tenderness in the relationships that Connie has with her family members. Her parents also have little, if any, knowledge of Connie's associations and activities.

A pretty girl, fifteen-year-old Connie is entirely self-absorbed. Her mother criticizes her for her vanity whenever she gazes in the mirror....

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But, Connie "look(s) right through her mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything." For the most part, Connie ignores the other members of her family. Her sister June, who is twenty-four, is "plain and chunky," so Connie does not like the fact that June works as a secretary at her high school. Furthermore, Connie dislikes how her mother and her aunts always praise June by saying what June has done, how she helps clean the house and cook, as well as how she saves money.

Connie's mother kept picking at her until Connie wished her mother were dead and she herself were dead and it were all over. "She makes me want to throw up sometimes," she complained to her friends.

Although her mother criticizes Connie frequently and tries to get her to do things around the house, she does not question Connie enough about where she has gone and what she has done. For instance, one day Connie was gone with her friend for hours, supposedly at the movies. But the next morning her mother simply asks Connie "how the movie was." When Connie, who spent three hours with a boy and did not watch any movie, replies, "So-so," her mother does not question her about the content of the movie. Nor does she ask with whom Connie watched the film and what else she did in the manner of a conscientious parent who would ascertain if Connie really did what she said she was going to do. And, because the mother and her husband never drive Connie to the shopping center, they do not know about Connie's activities there or with whom she associates.

While there are verbal exchanges between her mother and Connie, her father distances himself from their conflicts and has no communication with Connie. Whenever Connie and her friend go to the shopping center, it is the other girl's father who takes them. Most of the time, Connie's father is at work. Then, when he does come home, he eats supper and reads the newspaper during the meal. Afterwards, he just goes to bed. If there is a family outing or get-together with relatives, Connie does not participate.

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`The opening sentences tell us much about her relationship to her mother and to her sister. Her mother is no longer pretty, and therefore criticizes her daughter about everything. "Stop gawking at yourself," she tells her. "You think you're so pretty?"  As for her father, he "was away at work most of the time and when he came home he wanted supper and he read the newspaper at supper and after supper he went to bed."  He doesn't talk much to her or the rest of the family either. June was "plain and steady," the good girl who does things right and therefore the yardstick against which Connie is measured.  For all of these reasons, Connie finds meaning in the music around her, which almost becomes her religion, and in this vulnerable state she becomes easy prey for the likes of Arnold Friend.

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