What are the allegorical elements in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Allegory is defined by Miriam-Webster as

the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence.

Therefore, with this definition in mind, the most allegorical figure in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" is Arnold Friend. He it is who symbolizes much in this narrative that has been, by Oates's own notations, dedicated to Bob Dylan, a cultural icon of teens in the 1960s.

For Connie, music is "something she could depend upon," and she spends Sundays worshipping the "music that made everything so good." This action, this ritual of Connie's worship of music, is central to Oates' theme that the lack of parental involvement with this teen-ager has sent her to look for meaning elsewhere where she is delusionally

bathed in a glow of slow-pulsed joy that seemed to rise mysteriously out of the music itself.

This "perpetual music" is what fills Connie's life and directs her thoughts and actions.  Critics Mike Tierce and John Michael Crafton contend that part of the lyrics of Dylan's song, "Mr. Tambourine Man"

establishes the notion of using music to rouse one's imagination into a blissful fantasy world....

Thus, Tierce and Crafton propose, left to bathe in the sun on Sunday, Connie's "worship" of the music leads her imagination to conjure up both Arnold Friend and Ellie whose existences depend upon this music--"the music from [Connie's] radio and [Ellie's] blend together." Arnold's car and person both are the personification of Dylan's music, a music that has driven youth to various ideas and fantasies, some of which are salacious. So, when Arnold, part of her "trashy dreams," seduces/steals Connie, this action is symbolic of Connie's complete loss of innocence.  The words from another of Bob Dylan's songs, "Like a Rolling Stone," describe the final action of the story,  

Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose You're
invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

Certainly, then, Carol Joyce Oates' story can be interpreted as an allegory of the dangers of youth's being left to its imagination that can be seduced by influences such as music and its own unguided thoughts. 



accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is clear that this story is not a typical allegory, in that every character and action stands for some kind of virtue or characteristic, as a short story like "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne can be seen to be. However, generally speaking, Oates can be seen as presenting characters who represent particular issues that effect everybody at some stage in their life. This can be seen most strongly through the character of Connie, who is presented as a perfect example of a teenager who is struggling over her identity and is unsure of who she is. Note how she is presented:

Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head; her mouth, that was pale and smirking most of the time, but bright and pink on these evenings out...

It is clear that Oates is presenting Connie as a typical teenager who represents the way in which teenage years are characterised by a worrying uncertainty about identity. The story uses Arthur Friend as an example of an unscrupulous and frankly evil person who is able to exploit that uncertainty for his own devious purposes. Thus, although the story is not an allegory in the strict sense of the term, it is possible to argue that there are allegorical elements to it, that relate to the warning that Oates makes about teenagers and how vulnerable they can be to dangerous individuals whilst they go through this stage.

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