illustration of a young girl, Connie, reflected in the sunglasses of a man, Arnold Friend

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

by Joyce Carol Oates
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What does Connie represent in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"?

Connie in "Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?" represents the average teenage girl who doesn't realize the danger her sexuality can unfortunately put her in.

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Oates in many ways gives Connie distinct physical characteristics and puts her in a distinct family, but she also presents her as an "every girl," a very typical, pretty teenage girl coming into an awareness of her own sexuality.

Connie is described in ways that make her seem like an average teen of her period. She has "a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors." Her mind is "all filled with trashy daydreams." She is merged with her best friend in the following description, emphasizing her "teenager" status:

They must have been familiar sights, walking around the shopping plaza in their shorts and flat ballerina slippers that always scuffed the sidewalk, with charm bracelets jingling on their thin wrists.

Connie could be any middle-class adolescent girl feeling adulthood coming and enjoying the independence it brings, but she is still an innocent child.

Oates makes it clear that Connie has done nothing especially abnormal or egregious when she attracts the attention of a psychopathic killer. Though her attitude toward her parents and sister may be rude, she still holds a large degree of innocence and even love for her family (as is seen with her sacrifice for them at the end), and her teenage rebellion is somewhat normal.

This is what brings the poignant note to the story of her being abducted for rape and murder (Arnold Friend is based on a killer, Charles Schmid). Connie, no more than any young girl, doesn't deserve rape and death for innocently enjoying her budding sexuality, but because of that sexuality, she attracts the attention of Friend. Connie doesn't realize that this might make her—or any teenager—seem fair game to predatory and twisted men who see women not as fully human but as prey.

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