Joyce C. Oates story, "Where are You Going, Where Have You Been"? What impact does Connie's relationship with her family have on her maturity?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the opening lines of Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," Oates writes,

Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn't much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it[her face].

Ironically, however, the mother controls little of what Connie does, nor knows little of where she goes.  For one thing, the mother is too lenient, and does not insist that Connie clean her room; instead she just asks Connie, "Why don't you keep your room clean like your sister?"  Then, when Connie and her friends go off, the mother is unaware that Connie spends three hours with one boy after leaving her friends.  Hours later, one of the other girls' father picks Connie up with friends.  When her mother, who has assumed that Connie was at the movie asks, "How was the movie?" and Connie replies, "So-so," the mother does not ask any more questions to verify that her daughter was where she had said she was the night before.

During the summer vacation, Oates writes that Connie spent time around the house, "getting in her mother's way, and thinking, dreaming, about the boys she met."  Obviously, the mother does not have Connie help her, or even communicate much with her.  Thus, Connie is left to be in her own selfish, immature world with responsibilities.  When the mother talks on the phone about her daughters, her voice expresses disapproval of Connie; sometimes when they drink coffee together, when they "are almost friends," something "would come up--a vexation...and their faces went hard with contempt."  So, the mother does not really like Connie, or, perhaps, she envies Connie's youth and beauty that was once hers.

On the fateful Sunday of the encounter with Arnold Fiend, Connie's mother and her sister go to a family barbecue without her after Connie rolls her eyes to let her mother know "what she thought about it." Again that the mother has not insisted upon Connie's going with her indicates her allowance for Connie's immature self-centeredness.  Therefore, by being allowed to entertain her own "trashy thoughts" and selfish desires, by never being questioned on "Where have you been," the thinking of Connie is clearly immature and clouded to reality so that she does not recognize danger when she encounters it.

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