"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates is a short story with little action. What moves the narrative forward? What raises the tension?

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misslacey eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," by Joyce Carol Oates, the tension is created as both the reader and the main character, Connie, slowly together the dangerous situation she is in. For the reader, the fuzzy picture of Arnold Friend, the man who seems like a teen at first, becomes more focused only as Connie herself begins to notice that he is not a teen, but an older man with terrifying intentions. 

For example, look at the way Connie first perceives Arnold Friend:

"Connie liked the way he was dressed, which was the way all of them dressed: tight faded jeans stuffed into black, scuffed boots, a belt that pulled his waist in and showed how lean he was, and a white pull-over shirt that was a little soiled and showed the hard small muscles of his arms and shoulders. He looked as if he probably did hard work, lifting and carrying things. Even his neck looked muscular."

As she continues talking to him, she starts to notice small details that don't make sense and that indicate she might have gotten herself into a bad situation:

"His smiled faded. She could see then that he wasn’t a kid,
he was much older—thirty, maybe more. At this knowledge
her heart began to pound faster."

As Connie is coming to these realizations about Arnold Friend, the reader is seeing them also, simultaneously. At first, it seemed to both the reader and Connie that Friend was a boy about her age who was maybe going to get Connie into some kind of trouble, but the tension rises as we discover that he is not a kid at all, probably followed her home after seeing her at the drive in, and is most definitely going to rape and abduct her. 

All of this comes to a suspenseful climax as Connie tries to call for help but is unsuccessful:

"She began to scream into the phone, into the roaring. She cried out, she cried for her mother, she felt her breath start jerking back and forth in her lungs as if it were something Arnold Friend was stabbing her with again and again with no tenderness."

It is no coincidence that the description of Connie trying to use the phone and realizing she can't sounds as though she is being raped by Arnold Friend. This is because Connie is realizing that this is what is about to happen to her when she goes with Arnold Friend, which she does because she feels helpless and does not know what else to do.

Throughout the whole ordeal, the reader and Connie are realizing together what is really going on and what is really about to happen to Connie. By the end, this becomes a horror story. This is how Oates creates the suspense through the use of little action. 


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