The short story “Where are you going, where have you been?” by Joyce Carol Oates , first published in 1966, was inspired by the true story of a murderer and his crime. It’s a disturbing story which gradually builds up a sense of fear. The tone of a story is...
The short story “Where are you going, where have you been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, first published in 1966, was inspired by the true story of a murderer and his crime. It’s a disturbing story which gradually builds up a sense of fear. The tone of a story is created by how the writer describes what is going on, rather than specifically what they say. As with a tone of voice, the tone in a story can add extra or different layers to the feeling of the story. As such, it’s possible for the tone to change within a story as we can see to some extent in this particular example. Things like setting, characters, descriptions, and other word choices help us determine the tone.
While at the beginning there is a certain amount of irony or cynicism in the writer’s attitude towards Connie, the main character whose point of view the story is told from, by the end both the reader and Connie are full of fear and worried about what will happen next; the tone is more sympathetic and concerned. Consider, for example, how Oates builds up a sinister, uncomfortable atmosphere through gradually adding more and more awkward details into the description of the men in the car and how they interact with Connie.
Think about the feelings evoked in quotes such as these:
Then he began to smile again. She watched this smile come, awkward as if he were smiling from inside a mask. His whole face was a mask, she thought wildly
The kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before, some room she had run inside but that wasn't good enough, wasn't going to help her.
She put out her hand against the screen. She watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were back safe somewhere in the other doorway, watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited.
In all of these, tension is built through the emotions described and the way we become gradually more aware of the desperate situation in which the protagonist finds herself. As such, words like sinister, uncomfortable, and terrifying come to mind, but at the same time the writer keeps a certain distance in the writing, so the tone is at once concerned and distant, almost as if there is nothing the writer can do about what is about to happen. Look for examples, perhaps, of places where the writer seems to really care about what happens to Connie, or think about whether there are any passages where the writer is sympathetic or otherwise to Arthur Friend and his gang.