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The setting of Joyce Carol Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" presents a middle class family whose father spends most of his time at work; when he does return home, he eats supper, reads the paper after supper, and goes to bed. He is not involved in rearing his children; his only involvement is sitting before his wife who scolds Connie who is blocked by his shoulder.
Since the mother does not work, it is apparent that the family is probably at least middle class economically. Since Connie does no housework, indications are that the mother has probably grown up in a comfortable home in which she was not made to help around the home, either. And, like other middle class girls, Connie spends time walking around the shopping plaza in ballerina-like shoes with many charms on her bracelet. Connie also goes out "several times a week" to the malls in the summertime.
When Connie and her friends are spoken to by a boy leaning out his car window, they "feel good to be able to ignore him," a fact that indicates their confidence in themselves, the usual product of a comfortable lifestyle.
With such a comfortable life, Connie develops a certain complacency about herself and her environment. So, when Arnold Friend appears, she is unaware of any of the possible dangers of encountering a young male when she is alone at her home. For instance, when Friend pulls up, Connie notices that on the front fender is an expression that is familiar, but it is one no longer used this year, and
[S]he looked at it for a while as if the words meant something to her that she did not yet know.....She recognized most things about him....the tight jeans...the singsong way he talked, slightly mocking, kidding, but serious and a little melanchold, and she recognized the way he tapped one fist against the other in homage of the perpetual music behind him. But all these things did not come together.
When Arnold Friend talks of what sexual privileges he will take of her, Connie backs away from the door and puts her hands over her ears as she is shocked by such language, not having been exposed to such crudity in her middle-class environment.
"Shut up! You're crazy!" Connie said. She backed away from the door. She put her hands against her ears as if she'd heard something terrible, something not meant for her.
Clearly, Connie's little "trashy daydreams" pale in comparison to the reality of what Arnold Friend has in mind for her. In her moments of truth, Connie cries for her mother; she cries for her safe middle-class life.
A noisy sorrowful wailing rose all about her and she was locked insde it the way she was locked inside this house.
As she is forced to drive away with Friend, Connie watches herself push the door and close it upon her former life. There is much land before her, and she does not recognize it "except to know that she was going to it." Connie senses the end to her comfortable middle class life from which the story emerges.
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