Identify the significance of "music" to the overall meaning or theme of the story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Joyce Carol Oates's protagonist, Connie, is a teen-aged girl who "knew she was pretty and that was everything."  Self-absorbed, her mind "was all filled with trashy daydreams" and she listens to music that

...made everything so good:  the music was always in the background like music at a church service, it was something to depend upon.

For Connie, there is a "promise in songs" that the world can be romantic and dreamy and satisfying to her; thus, she is seduced by the music to which she listens.  And, with the suggestion that music connects to religion for her, Connie places a certain trust in its powers since hymns and other religious songs often inspire beliefs and faith. Also, it is a well known fact that music is not only used to inspire, but it can condition people to a way of thought as, for example, national anthems, battle songs, etc. strengthen people's belief in a national culture or cause.

Therefore, when Arnold Friend, whose name has been "de-coded" as removing the r's to make "A old fiend," there is an apparent seduction intended by Friend who disguises himself as a teen, speaking to Connie "like a singsong" while his companion Ellie turns up the volume on music that is "familiar," but "only half real." Clearly, too, the music is used to lure Connie into thinking of her dreamy world with the boys that she meets at the shopping plaza.

After his devilish declaration that Connie is not safe in her father's house, Arnold Friend convinces her to come out to him. With a sense of unreality, Connie "watches" herself moving toward Friend, who, in "a half-sung sigh" says, "My sweet little blue-eyed girl," the beginning of a song by the rebellious Bob Dylan,

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last 

But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.

If Connie's "father's house" as Friend calls it, were a place where her father truly exerted authority and influence, Connie may have not been lured outside by Friend and the seduction of music in which Connie has put so much faith.  As it is, she has no trust in her familial relationships and is, thus, susceptible to the "Fiend" and the illusionary world of music, moving toward a land that she does not "recognize except to know that she [is] going to it."




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