What do the numbers 33, 19, and 17 mean in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"?

The numbers 33, 19, and 17 in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" are a reference to 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?"

This is both a reference to the title and a characterization of the mysterious and sinister Arnold Friend.

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Joyce Carol Oates is known for leaving cryptic clues in her stories that provide points of deeper analysis, and this is one such clue.

When Arnold Friend introduces himself to Connie, he points out the numbers written on the side of his car. He even acknowledges that they are a...

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Joyce Carol Oates is known for leaving cryptic clues in her stories that provide points of deeper analysis, and this is one such clue.

When Arnold Friend introduces himself to Connie, he points out the numbers written on the side of his car. He even acknowledges that they are a "secret code" and wants to know what Connie thinks about them. Baffled and caught off guard, Connie doesn't seem to have any reaction to the numbers at all.

The numbers 33, 19, and 17 look loosely like a reference to Scripture, so that is a plausible starting place for an investigation. Counting to the thirty-third book in the Bible won't lead to any verse that is pertinent to this story. However, this is a story that centers around the way evil appears unexpectedly. What happens if we take a less predictable approach and count backwards thirty-three books, starting with the last book in the Old Testament? By using this method, we will land in Judges. Take a look at 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?"

Here, we have a direct connection to the title of the story and to the mysterious characterization of Arnold Friend, whose name reads An Old Fiend if you remove the rs. Arnold Friend, who has seemingly supernatural powers of evil, appears out of nowhere. His plans for Connie are sinister, yet she fails to recognize this truth when it initially presents itself. The secret code is one of the first clues that Arnold Friend, a sinister traveler, is a malicious threat.

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