illustration of a young girl, Connie, reflected in the sunglasses of a man, Arnold Friend

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

by Joyce Carol Oates

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Why does Connie leave with Arnold at the end of Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

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The protagonist of Joyce Carol Oates's short story Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? is a 15-year-old girl named Connie. Despite being the physically more attractive of her parents' two daughters--the older sister, June, is 24 and described as "plain and chunky"--Connie is treated harshly by her domineering mother, who apparently jumps at any opportunity to berate her teenage daughter for any perceived shortcoming. Connie's tendency toward vanity is derided by her mother with comments like, "Why don't you keep your room clean like your sister? How've you got your hair fixed--what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don't see your sister using that junk." In short, Connie's life among her immediate relatives is less than perfect, and her self-esteem, to say nothing of her emotional isolation ("Connie wished her mother dead and she herself was dead and it was all over"), leaves her prey to the wrong sort of people. Such people do, in fact, materialize in the form of two men.

Connie goes off with the two men in the story's conclusion despite her misgivings about these two strangers who seem to know a great deal about her. Why would she do such a dangerous thing? Perhaps because Connie, like many teenage girls, suffers from low self-esteem, and the attention Arnold Friend lavishes on her, complimenting her looks and expressing an intense interest in her, plays to Connie's insecurities. It's an old and sad story, really, and in reality is directly linked to the problem of human trafficking within the United States. Connie goes with the strange men because her home life is bad and she is desperate for positive attention. One could logically speculate about her fate--kidnapped, raped, murdered--but there is a certain underlying truth to Oates's story, and it explains why this 15-year-old girl would leave with two strange males.

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In part, Connie agrees to go with Arnold at the end of the story because he threatens her and her family, telling her that if she doesn't come out of the house, he is going to hurt her family when they come home. She leaves the house with Arnold to prevent her family from getting hurt. In addition, it seems as though Arnold has a strange hold over her mind and convinces her that she and her past do not exist anymore. She thinks about her life "that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside his body that wasn’t really hers either." Arnold has a mesmerizing kind of effect on her, and he tells her that her family doesn't really know her and never did. She watches herself leave the house as if she has been transported out of her body. She observes herself as if she is a double and does not recognize the part of herself leaving the house. In the end, she goes out with Arnold into a land that she doesn't even recognize because he has mesmerized and changed her so completely. 


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