Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Questions and Answers
by Joyce Carol Oates

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What do the numbers written on Arnold Friend's car (33, 19, and 17) signify in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"?

The numbers written on Arnold Friend's car in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" possibly refer to Jesus, perhaps signifying that Friend is a sort of Antichrist.

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linda-allen eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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,...

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user6501824 | Student

Something I don't think people are thinking about is the X Arnold made.  Sure you argue about him being the antichrist because you can do a little math, but don't forget about what language the New Testament was written in. In was written in Greek by the way. Anyways, 666 written in Greek starts with an X and 666 is used to show who the Beast aka AntiChrist is.

jimmy7 | Student

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

zhaman | Student

The author was asked about the numbers and she said that they were just random numbers.

katielucille | Student

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!

berzerker501st | Student

If the devil speaks backwards wouldn't he continue with the rest of the numbers?

michaelg14 | Student

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.

happyfeet701 | Student
Come to think about it if you add those numbers 33, 19, and 17 it equals 69. Which could represent a sexual way.
ladicus | Student

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 | Student

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 | Student

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 | Student

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 | Student

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.

blackhole33 | Student

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 | Student

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.  

momof02 | Student

The numbers can represent the ages of Arnold Friend's victims.  Notice that the numbers are descending which could correspond with the first victim that is mentioned, who can be considered old to a teenager.  Since Connie is 15, it also follows the pattern. 

It also could represent the Bible verse in Judges.  It is the 33rd book in the Old Testament if you count backwards.

joejoker1st | Student

the hoofs for feet thing is just to sway you. so is the disguies of the wig and what appears to be a mask. the actual killer who the story is loosly based on use to put things in his boots to make him taller. he also use to dye his hair raven black and where makeup and mascara to enhance his appearence it's all in a time magazine article i'll put the link in. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,834699,00.html

kathy268 | Student

If you add 33 + 19 + 17, you will see the sexual reference.

christo | Student

As mentioned in previous posts, the numbers 33, 19, 17 do in fact refer to the biblical reference.  It may seem tenuous at first because one is required to run the first number from the end of the Protestant Old Testament; however, such a tension is alleviated when one looks at the verse in question, namely Chapter 19 vs 17: “When he saw the traveler in the city square, the old man asked, “Where are you going?  Where did you come from?”.  The fact that such a statement is not only directly related to the story in name and in context; but has the prominent place of the title of the story suggests that the allusion to the biblical narrative is intended.  Further, because the intentionality of the allusion is made clear, other seemingly ambiguous aspects of the story are evinced.  For example, Oates leaves the events which transpire after Connie is taken out of the narrative.  If one looks at the conclusions of the biblical narrative – in which a virgin daughter is taken by evil men of a city and raped and abused – one sees that the Oates narrative likely has the same conclusions.  Thus, through the numbers on Arnold’s car, one is given insight into the full conclusion of the story of Connie.  Further still, one is put on the path of understanding the criticism of modern society that Oates is intending to bring about through her story.

cookie123456 | Student

Actually you guys are all half right. we did a 3 day critical analysis of this piece. You're right that the bible verse is Judges 19:17 which has the title of the book but the crazy math thing to equal 666 is totally wrong. He is the devil though becuase of the following clues:

1. ARNOLD FRIEND: they constantly listed to Rock and Roll. Take out the two R's is ARNOLD FRIEND and you get AN OLD FIEND. The oldest fiend through time has been the devil.

2. A myth states that the devil is not alowed to enter a house un-invited. Hense the reason he never enters.

3. Also, it is believed that the devil has hooves for feet which is why his feel were at odd angles and he kept tripping.

4. He was also able to know about her family that way and lure her to him

lthsfanpire | Student

Ok we where trying to think of what the numbers ment in class and i think all the bible terms are good because Arnold Friend is shown as an anti-christ.But it turns out that they dont mean anything.

calanthe | Student

The numbers means the book, chapter, and verse in the bible and it is also the devil's number: 3+3=6, 17+19=36/ square root the 36=6,6. Put that together and you get 666. Or if you add up all of the numbers it will equal 69. It could mean what most poeple think 69 means (adult rated). But it is also goes with connie About being two-sided since you canflip both #'s to make each other. Also the number 69 if you put the #'s close and connect the line it will make the ying and yang symbol(which is also an two-sided thing).

tigerhoss | Student

No insult to lisalit.

Ms. Oates has always "remained silent" on the "real meaning" behind clues in a story that allow readers to puzzle over interpretation.

lindsay413 is more than half-way home but not quite there.

33 is the age of Christ at crucifixion.
The missing number in the "17, 19" sequence is, obviously 18.
As was previously noted the 18th letter of the alphabet is "R" and striking the "R's" from Arnold Friend yields "An Old Fiend,"

Don't just add 33+17+19=69, that gets you half-way home. (And suggests a more sexually mutually consensual act).

Add 10x(33+17+19) which yields 690. Now subtract the sum of the digits (3+3+1+7+1+9) to derive "24." Subtract that 24 from the previously known 690 and you get "666" -- the "sign" of the Devil.

These can be seen as arbitrary moves involving "18" and the letter "R," but for this: in the time of Constantine, he converted to Christianity after believing his success was from God. To "baptize" his troops before an important battle he had them paint the letter of Christ (P) on their shields and marched them through a river. That letter in classical Greek and old Roman (the languages known to Constantine) occupied the 18th place in the alphabet. But as the alphabet changed slightly "P" moved back 2 places and was replaced with "R," which is not an arbitrary act: you are striking Christ from the story.

lisalit | Student

I hate to burst everyone's bubble on this, but when I was in college I had the delightful opportunity to meet and interview the author, Joyce Carol Oates. I specifically asked her about the meaning of the numbers on Arnold's car and she said they were random and didn't know why everyone was so intrigued with them. So there you have it.

lindsay413 | Student

I actually had to do a research paper on this, and a lot of people did think it was a biblical meaning but it really is not. If you add up all the numbers 33,17,19 it equal 69 which if you don't know is a "sexual expression". Which if you really think about it, it is not surprising at all.

arielyvonne | Student

Why would you count the books backwards? Thats ridiculous

eric8888 | Student

Add the numbers up.  It's a story meant for adults. 

jhs | Student

they do indeed refer to a bible verse. 

Judges 19:17

*count the books backwards.  

aschem | Student

someone said that 33,19,17 signifies a verse in the bible. However, judges is not the 33rd book of the old testament as they stated, rather it is the 7th book of the old testament.

nmachiavelli | Student

 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?"


tammie | Student

the age in which he killed someone