Discuss the irony in Oates' short story, "Where Are You Going?  Where Have You Been?"

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The starting point of defining irony might help here.  The critical element in the definition is the idea of incongruity:

.... [a] situation in which there is a sharp incongruity or discordance that goes beyond the simple and evident intention of words or actions. Ironic statements (verbal irony) often convey a meaning exactly opposite from their literal meaning.

We can see this at several points in the story.  Consider Arnold Friend's name written on his gold jalopy:  "A. Friend."  Arnold is about the most divergent example of a friend that one could envision.  Another irony is Connie, herself.  Connie is shown as the typical teen who loves and revels her independence, something of which she is in perceived considerable control.  This is ironic between at the end of the story, she is nowhere near in control of her identity and the situation in which she is at the end of the story.  I would also think that the title of the story is ironic.  Connie's parents are so detached from her state of being in the world that they cannot even ask the fundamental questions of "Where are you going?" or "Where have you been?"  The irony of this is not missed given the ending of the story.  Oates might be suggesting that had the parents been able to ask such questions and ascertain such answers, Connie's interaction with "A. Friend" might not have needed to have happened.

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