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 Ellie symbolize in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"?

Ellie Oscar could symbolize those who are prisoners of popular culture.

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In "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," Ellie Oscar could symbolize those who are prisoners of popular culture.

While the symbolism of Arnold Friend is much more direct, Ellie Oscar is more elusive. Some believe his name is an allusion to the Oscars, which are the pinnacle of achievements in popular culture. Ellie never leaves the car and is somewhat imprisoned there, simply taking orders from Arnold Friend. Many believe that Arnold Friend, with whom Ellie travels, is a Satanic figure. In this respect, it could be inferred that Ellie—popular culture, by extension—is controlled by evil.

In fact, one of Connie's character flaws is her obsession with popular culture. She doesn't want to be a "plain Jane" like her sister and uses her hair and clothing to draw attention. Connie goes shopping and enjoys movies, but she also sneaks around to a drive-in restaurant so that she can be around older kids. She is intentional in the way she crosses her legs and enjoys the popular music in the background of these escapades. She places herself in this environment expecting that her actions and clothing will draw the attention of boys, and it is here that Arnold Friend first sees her and promises, "Gonna get you, baby."

Ellie Oscar seemingly has no opinions of his own. Instead, he dresses much like Arnold Friend and occupies himself by fidgeting with a transistor radio. Ellie lurks in the shadows of Arnold Friend's verbal finesse, and his personality is eerily barren. Arnold Friend insults Ellie, calling him "crazy," and treats him as if Ellie "[does] not count and [Connie] should not bother with him." Ellie therefore symbolizes the possible dangers of popular culture, especially on impressionable minds; he is mindless and easily controlled.

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