Given Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," address the following.
1. What happened to Connie at the end?
2. Who is Arnold Friend?
3. Did Connie bring all of this on herself?
4. Was she a bad girl?
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The questions presented range from factual based on textual detail to highly speculative and predicated upon individual opinion. This is only to indicate that you might find different answers to those questions where substantiated opinion is offered.
One item that is difficult to debate is what happens to Connie at the end of the story. Connie realizes that Arnold Friend is going to hurt either her alone or her entire family if she resists. As a result and because there is no respite for her, she recognizes how this story will end: "She thought, I'm not going to see my mother again. She thought, I'm not going to sleep in my bed again. Her bright green blouse was all wet." As she walks towards Arnold, she knows that her fate is sealed: "She felt her pounding heart. Her hand seemed to enclose it. She thought for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that wasn't really hers either." It can be presumed from this ending that she is going with Arnold, and death is a distinct possibility. Oates writes the story as inspired by the murders committed by Charles Schmid, who lured high schoolers to their deaths similar to Arnold Friend. From this, Connie's death can be inferred.
Arnold Friend can be seen as many things, but I think that his overall purpose in the story is as the force of negation. To a great extent, Connie represents the pitch of prosperity in her capacity as the typical American teenager. She does not suffer from economic hardship and is treated well by her family by all accounts. Her life represents prosperity and a sense of economic progress in that she is the benefactor of the previous generation's struggle. Connie does not have to work out of economic need or material necessity. Interestingly enough, the only threat to Connie is herself. Her blind belief in romance and the allure of "living dangerously" makes her easy prey to Arnold Friend. In the desire for "A. Friend," she accepts Arnold too closely. Essentially, had Connie possessed some level of a more traditionalist condition, Arnold would not have been able to develop his "in" with her. Had she been with her family the night before or at the barbecue, there is a chance she is not getting that close with Arnold. (Oates makes it a point that "none of them bothered with church," reflecting another potential option that could have been taken, but was not.) It is in this light where Arnold represents that force which negates the pure use of freedom without consequences for adolescents. Arnold represents the need for vigilance because he embodies that force out there that can be threatening to adolescents who have only the pitch of freedom as they sojourn out into the world. Naturally, he is the antagonist of the story. However, his symbolic meaning comes to represent much more given how the story ends for Connie.
It is difficult to say that Connie brought this on herself. When I read this story to my students, their first reaction was that she did and she is to blame for her predicament. I get it and can understand that reaction. Yet, I think that Oates is too crafty of a writer and too brilliant of a mind to reduce it so easily. I think that Connie has bought into the socially defined construction of what being a teenager is. She embraces the superficiality, the beauty, the need to be seen, and the trappings of what society dictates is appropriate and acceptable. It is for this reason that she attracts a guy like Arnold in the first place. Social expectation is a large reason why Connie ends up in the situation that she does. The social expectation of fulfilling a role is what causes her to be in danger. Certainly, she can be blamed for accepting this condition. However, I think that Oates is suggesting that we question the social expectations that demand conformity to this external standard.
At the same time, it's really difficult to not question some aspect of parenting in Connie's life. Oates develops the parents as present in Connie's life, but really quite absent. Connie's father is mentally absent from raising his girls: "Their father 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 didn't bother talking much to them..." At the same time, Oates develops the mother's character as equally not much involved in Connie's life:
Her mother was so simple, Connie thought, that it was maybe cruel to fool her so much. Her mother went scuffling around the house in old bedroom slippers and complained over the telephone to one sister about the other, then the other called up and the two of them complained about the third one.
When Connie's mother says to her "Stay home alone then," as she voices displeasure at going to the barbecue, the words end up sealing Connie's fate. Connie's parents have to shoulder some of the blame of what has happened to her because they are so glaringly absent in their teen daughter's life. The very title of the story are questions that every parent must ask their child. These questions are never asked to Connie, and as a result, she has designed a world where she "fools" her parents "so much." Connie's "moral poverty" is as much theirs as it is hers. Finally, I would simply suggest that it might not be proportional to blame Connie for all of what happened to her. The fact is that her ending should not be something that anyone should have to endure. This fact alone would absolve her. She suffers tremendously enough for her mistakes that she should not have to shoulder additional blame.
I am not sure that Connie is a "bad girl" as much as she is a sad one. Connie believes that the temporal is transcendent. She believes that her "dreaming about the boys she met" and the entire social world that she lives for is where meaning exists. She believes in the external conditions that define her and her world. She never questions it until it is too late. I don't think that she is "bad" for this as much as she is sad. Oates points out that Connie's friend's father "never ... [bothers] to ask" about what the girls are doing. Connie's mother resigns her daughter to "stay home alone then." There is a horrifying indifference to the world that Connie inhabits. The people who should be providing a sense of guidance are abandoning their responsibilities. While Connie and the millions of others like her think they don't need adults, they do. The failure of adults to be a positive part of her life makes her sad. In the end, one cannot unilaterally condemn children for being children. They must have guidance and structure and Connie does not have any. She is free to run amok. The results are disastrous. Again, to judge Connie as "bad" given the absence of structure and guidance she experiences might miss out Oates's larger point. It is this element that makes Connie more "sad" than "bad" in my mind.
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