What do the numbers written on Arnold Friend's car (33, 19, and 17) signify in the story?

31 Answers

linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

The way Friend leers at Connie, you might think these numbers are a woman's measurements: bust 33, waist 19, hips 17; but that would make an unusual looking woman.

Perhaps he is referring to John 19:17: "So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of the skull." Traditionally, Jesus was 33 when he was crucified.

At the end of the story, when Connie looks out over the fields as she walks out of the house, she realizes that she is walking to her own death.

One other thing that might link Friend to an anti(meaning opposite of)Christ is that he asks her, "Don't you know who I am?" Jesus asked the same question of his disciples.

Here is a video of analysis of the story:

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nmachiavelli's profile pic

nmachiavelli | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) Honors

Posted on

 Those are a Bible verse, which is not very suprising if you except the interpretation that Arnold Friend is Satan. The33rd book of the Old Testament (King James Version and Most Other Forms) is Judges. 19:17 is the passage:

And when he had lifted up his eyes, he saw a wayfaring man in the street of the city: and the old man said, "Whither goest thou? and whence comest thou?"

The text in quotes is basically Old English for the title of this short story: "Where are you going, Where have you been?"


jimmy7's profile pic

jimmy7 | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

If you add those three numbers together you get 69, a sexual position.

katielucille's profile pic

katielucille | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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This is exaclty while Joyce Carol Oates but the numbers in the story. She wanted people to talk about it! And it is OBVIOUSLY a biblical verse, she got the title for the story from it! Where else did she get that title? Writers write to put a vast array of images in your head, whether their biblical, perverted, or imaginative, she got you thinking about it!

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michaelg14 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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On many acccounts, the devil has been known to speak backward.  If you count backwards 33, you reach the book of judges.  Chapter 19 verse 17 talks of an old man that approaches Jesus and asks him where he is going and where he came from, more or less the title of the book.

ladicus's profile pic

ladicus | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

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Preforming random acts of arithmetic to the numbers 33, 19, and 17 is obviously an incorrect approach because there is no rhyme or reason to their application other than to produce a desired result (i.e. 666, 69..).

As far as the Bible verse is concerned, it does seem odd to count the books in reverse (an idea I would have never thought up alone). However, the fact that the title of Oates' story exists almost verbatim in the verse and that the following the lines depict a story of girl who is raped and abused after being sent out of a house (the most probable fate of Connie), it is much to similar to be coincidental.

I believe Oates vagueness toward the question of the numbers is intentional because it is obvious she places them in the story purposefully and has the numbers referred to as "a secret code." The true intention of the numbers is most definitely to allude to Connie's fate for those unfilled with Oates' story ending and need more closer.

Other dispelled remarks:

Atheist or not, Oates is trying to evoke emotion responses and uses many methods. Just because she writes about something doesn't mean she believes in it. I'm sure you wouldn't think she is an advocate of abduction just because she wrote it.

The "An Old Fiend" idea is an interesting theory but seems to be more of the conjuring of a wanted conclusion to the problem and using using number play to obtain it.

Hope this helps.

missmanda's profile pic

missmanda | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

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I am currently working on an essay about this story, and am not yet convinced of any of the answers given. The bible verse answer is confused some say john some say otherwise. I have a hard time buying it given JCO is an atheist, it seems to me she is also far more creative than as to make it that simple. I am spending countless hrs on this and am starting to belive it must have more to do with who the story is loosely based on charles schmidt, the pided piper of tuscon. anything i uncover i will post and would love to hear more theories if anyone has more to offer

malys's profile pic

malys | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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it is indeed from Judges 19:17 the verse gives the title of the story: "When he looked and saw the traveler in the city square, the old man asked, "Where are you going? Where did you come from?""...Where are you going, Where have you been? = the title of the story

jwblant's profile pic

jwblant | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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You're an idiot if you believe that those numbers are random. Remember, authors don't put things like that in books if they don't have a meaning.  If the numbers TRULY are random, then they serve no purpose, and therefore they is ZERO point for them to be in the story.

Read the other comments:

add them together you get 69.

Judges*** 19:17 (NIV)

"When he looked and saw the traveler in the city square, the old man asked, "Where are you going? Where did you come from?"""


***Judges is the 33rd book of the Old Testament if you count backwards. Sound like a stretch??? Well if you add 7+19+17, you don't get 69. That's why she used 33...

anonomoose's profile pic

anonomoose | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Something a little different to add...

33 19 17 can be numerologically written as: Genesis, the first book of the bible... where it states: "As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, 'Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!'" This is refering to the parable of Lot, when he's fleeing the distruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. His wife does look back though, and she's turned to salt.

One could assume that this is refering to when Connie looks back at Arnold in the dinner before she leaves.

Another representation of 33 19 17 is the word Consumed, as Lot's wife was, and as Connie would be by Arnold Friend.

The numbers are also the ages of the victims that the criminal raped and murdered that Oates based Friend off of: 33, 19 and then 17.

Some more interesting numbers in the novel:

Connie Arnold Friend = 6 6 6

June is the sixth month of the year.

Connie Mother Father: 6 6 6

and then of course:

A N OLD FIEND which is what you get when you take out the letter 18, R, from Arnold's name, which coincidently is 6+6+6

And then Friend's age, which he says is 18.

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blackhole33 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Cracking the 33, 19, 17 Mystery:

3+3=6....... 9 upside-down is 6.... 7-1=6

you end up getting "666," the sign of the Devil, in which Arnold represents.  But what of the "1" in the 19, you may ask?  Well in earlier manuscripts of Revelation, the number was 616 rather than 666, so it works out either way. 

Now in addition to that, there's more symbolism in the story. Connie's family leaving could represent the rapture. They left but Connie stayed behind at the house.  Arnold (satan) comes for her.  Ellie is with him and he under Arnold's complete control? Why? Because of the music. Throughout the story, music controls and possesses both Connie at times as well as Ellie. 

When she wants to pick up the phone, she cannot, because of Arnold's (satan) threats.  The Bible notes that after the rapture, the Holy Spirit will no longer empower new believers.  Likewise, Connie is too weak to pick up the phone and eventually gives in to Arnold (satan).  In addition, in leaving the security of the house and going to Arnold's car (the 666 car, remember), she "takes on" the 666 number, which the Bible states is an unforgivable sin. 

Just some stuff my friend and I came up with purely on our own.  It may or may not be right, but that's the fun in reading into symbolism.

sleverhart's profile pic

sleverhart | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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The author claims they are random--but little is random about Oates' story design.  The Biblical theories seem too valid to be coincidental, especially the one that ties the title of the story to a Bibical passage mentioning the title!  Some of my students have another theory. Friend is obviously a pervert: just add'em up.  

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