In "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," how does Connie’s home life and lack of male role model contribute to her alienation? Why does she seek approval from Arnold Friend?
In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, Connie’s dull home life and lack of male role models contribute to her alienation. First, she has a tense relationship with her mother. Connie reminds her mother of her lost beauty and her mother portends Connie’s future. Second, Connie feels no connection with her older sister June and their father. Connie seeks approval from Arnold Friend because she receives none from her family.
In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?,” 15-year-old Connie feels stifled by her boring home life and oppressive mother. She feels alienated and disconnected from her family for various reasons. First, Connie cannot relate to her straight-laced and dull older sister June who seems to be the favored daughter. June is
so plain and chunky and steady that Connie had to hear her praised all the time by her mother and her mother's sisters. June did this, June did that, she saved money and helped clean the house and cooked and Connie couldn't do a thing, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams.
Second, Connie’s father barely engages with Connie, providing no substantial male role model. After spending all day out of the house at work, he comes home to eat supper, reads the paper while eating (thus probably talking little with anyone), and then goes to bed. He is ordered around by his domineering wife, Connie's mother. In fact, after Connie’s mother retorts that Connie should stay home from a boring family barbecue, Connie’s father says nothing. He is simply “quiet and bald, hunched around so that he could back the car out.” Any other possible male role models—like her best friend’s father who drives them back and forth into town to shop, watch movies, and see boys—never bothers to speak to her or ask her anything.
Most significantly, Connie’s mother shares a contentious relationship with Connie. Pretty in an earlier life, Connie’s mother is an omen to Connie of a future as a faded beauty and probable housewife. To Connie, her mother is
a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything. Her mother had been pretty once too, if you could believe those old snapshots in the album, but now her looks were gone and that was why she was always after Connie.
Very conscious of her physical attractiveness, Connie wears cute clothes and jewelry, styles her long dark blond hair, and flirts with boys. Her mother seems both jealous of and frightened by her daughter’s nubile appearance. She scolds Connie for primping and nags her. In fact, she interrupts Connie’s daydreams of boys with commands to complete household tasks. Interestingly, though,
actually Connie thought that her mother preferred her to June just because she was prettier, but the two of them kept up a pretense of exasperation, a sense that they were tugging and struggling over something of little value to either of them. Sometimes, over coffee, they were almost friends, but something would come up—some vexation that was like a fly buzzing suddenly around their heads—and their faces went hard with contempt.
This antagonistic love-hate relationship increases Connie’s alienation from her family and her home. Her family and home represent a safe space for her to fantasize yet an oppressive prison of monotony and scorn.
This alienation makes Connie’s desire to seek approval from Arnold Friend understandable in some ways. First, she seeks his approval because she does not receive any from her family, especially her mother. Her mother disapproves of Connie’s behavior, her sister June is Connie’s antitype, and her father ignores her. Second, Friend pays attention to Connie’s appearance as a beautiful woman. Like many adolescents, during much of the story Connie plays at being older than she really is and tries on personas as a flirtatious woman with teenage boys. Friend actually calls her on her bluff—so to speak—by tracking her down at her home and declaring that he wants to make love to her.
Third, the dangerous and rough Friend represents another world different from her dull home. When she first spots him and catches his attention, she is away from home. Later when he shows up at her house, Connie can’t decide
if she liked him or if he was just a jerk, and so she dawdled in the doorway and wouldn't come down or go back inside.
She stands in a liminal space, deciding between safe domesticity and the unsafe—but exciting—outside world. Nonetheless, Connie finds him alluring with his
tight faded jeans stuffed into black, scuffed boots, a belt that pulled his waist in and showed how lean he was, and a white pull-over shirt that was a little soiled and showed the hard small muscles of his arms and shoulders. He looked as if he probably did hard work, lifting and carrying things. Even his neck looked muscular.
At first she is flattered by his masculine attention, like he is “sniffing as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up and it was all a joke.” But when he becomes menacing, she retreats.
In the end, though, Connie does not seek his approval as much as obeys him in order to protect her family. He tells her that if she refuses to go with him, he will harm her mother, father, and sister:
You don't want them to get hurt … they don't know one thing about you and never did and honey, you're better than them because not a one of them would have done this for you.
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