Where Are You Going Where Have You Been Thesis

What is a good thesis statement about "Where are you Going Where Have You Been?"

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edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Joyce Carol Oates's story can be interpreted as an enactment of the familiar "rite of passage" theme in literature; moreover, Oates's story is influenced by the work of Arnold van Gennep, an early twentieth-century ethnographer and folklorist who posited that the rite of passage has three phases. These phases correspond with the trajectory of Connie's situation in "Where are You Going, Where Have you Been?"

Prior to the arrival of Arnold Friend, Connie dwells in the phase van Gennep terms "preliminary." She is experiencing the psychological rejection of the lives of her mother and sister and asserting her independence of them—and her friends—by sneaking off with boys when she is assumed to be at the shopping mall or movies with girlfriends. In this phase, Connie is preparing to leave the rituals of her childhood. Foregoing the barbecue is her final act of the preliminary phase.

The second stage is what van Gennep terms the liminal stage; here is the transition or threshold where one is in a brief period of a sort of limbo. In Connie's case, it is the agonizing moments when Arnold Friend stands on the other side of the door, alternately seducing and threatening her into crossing that literal and symbolic threshold.

The final phase of the rite of passage as van Gennep understood it is called the postliminal. In this stage, one has made the transition and is in some way marked by the experience. Oates does not elaborate on Connie's postliminal stage. Readers assume that walking through the door to join Arnold Friend will end tragically for Connie as she moves into the unknown.

To analyze Oates's story in this fashion, a defensible thesis statement could read:

While Connie's situation clearly represents the first two stages of van Gennep's conception of the rite of passage, Oates leaves undeveloped the final stage in the story's dark conclusion.



mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alluding to a former directionless high official, Henry Kissinger, statesman, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and former Secretary of State said,

"If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there."

It is interesting that part of the title of Joyce Carol Oates's story contains one of Kissinger's phrases: where you are going. For, Connie, the main character,certainly does not know where she is going at the story's end and she travels down a road--any road--to an unknown destination. Immersed in her "trashy daydreams" and lured by the music on the radio, Connie finds the lines between reality and her sensual reveries blurring until she is caught between the two worlds by Arnold Friend and is seduced by his music and lyricism into his car where he takes her away after telling her,

"Yes, I'm your lover.  You don't know what that is, but you will,"

One thesis statement that can be formulated, then, pertains to the character development of Connie, who does not seem to be aware of the paths that she takes. For, "[E]verything about her had two sides to it, one when she was at home and one for anywhere that was not home. But, each is as directionless as the other, for the parents are not actively engaged in the life of Connie. Certainly, the challenge of the question applies to them as much as to their daughter, as well. When they lead not their daughter, Connie knows not in what she is engaged, nor where she is headed as she is directed by sinister forces.

Lured by her trashy daydreams and lack of responsibility to her family, Connie finds herself on a path to which she knows not where she has been, nor where she is going, nor who she is.

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