Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? book cover
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How can I demonstrate the theme of "nothing in the story is as it seems" in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think that if there is a search for the examples of the theme of appearance versus reality, there is much in the work to suggest this as being quite valid.  On one hand, Connie seems to be a girl who is self confident and completely assured in who she is and what she does.  The first half of the story depicts her as the type of girl who has "the world on the string."  She believes in her ability to attract young boys and how different she is from the simpleton views of her mother, the plain nature of her sister, as well as the other "dopes" that are around her.  Yet, this is not the case with her interactions with Arnold Friend, where she is shown to be outmatched by an adversary that has malicious intentions on his mind.  In the end, she is exposed as someone who is pretty and has no sense of self, someone that is going to be eventually overtaken by a world that easily manipulates and abuses others.  Friend might be another example of appearing as something that he might not be.  He looks like a young "greaser" type of person who would be slick enough that Connie could consider "cool."  Yet, she realizes that he is older than he appears to be, caked with makeup, shorter, and is not "cool" but most decidedly "uncool" with what he plans to do with Connie.  Finally, the supposed boredom in Connie's life is something that she ends up treasuring when it is too late.  The banal and plainness that she so sought to escape is something that she yearns for at the end.

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