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 the title "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" signify?

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Joyce Carol Oates' title "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" supports the larger themes of journey and discovery within her short story.  The protagonist Connie dreams of growing up and going places.  The lyric quality of the title also flows with Connie's love for music and the dreamy quality of the scene in which she lays out in the sun, her mind wandering as the radio plays in the background. 

Later in the story's climax, the title gains additional significance as Arnold warns Connie:

"The place where you came from ain't there anymore [...] and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out."

In the end, Connie leaves with Friend, her destination and fate as unknown as the uncertain road before her.

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What is the significance and possible symbolism in the title of "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

The title overtly applies to the frequent questions which Connie's mother plagues her with. In response to these questions, Connie lies and is surprised at the apparent "simplicity" of her mother and the way that she is so ready to believe and trust Connie and what she says. Not only does the title focus us in therefore on an experience that is one that all adolescents can relate to, it also emphasises the strange, nebulous, in-between phase of adolescence that Connie is going through. The main theme of the story is about how adolescence is such a turbulent time that can leave adolescents particularly vulnerable to psychological manipulation such as that administered on Connie by Arnold Friend. Thus the title also calls to mind this strange, in-between state, by focusing on the way that adolescence is in many ways a state of limbo between your past, where you have been, and your future, where you are going. By developing the character of Connie at this stage of her life, the author depicts a character that is strangely vunlnerable and unsure of her own identity, as is reinforced by such comments as:

She wore a pullover jersey top that looked one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home. Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home...

Such passages, along with the title, help to reinforce the vulnerability of Connie as a character.

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What does the title "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" mean?

In accordance with the above observations that there is the absence of a parent asking the questions posed in the title, it is interesting to note that the father of Connie's best girlfriend "drove the girls the three miles to town and left them off at a shopping plaza" so that they could wile away the time in the shops or at the movie; most significantly, he "never bothered to ask what they had done." It is this detached lack of interest in the teens and the lack of control that leads them to become influenced by the "music that made everything so good."

With the music as a subliminal control, "something to depend upon" and to provide an "urgent insistent pounding," Connie's friends and she are absolutely directionless themselves. Instead, Connie is detached from her normal familial relations and stays home when they go to a barbeque, with her eyes closed in the sun,

dreaming and dazed with the warmth around her as if this were a kind of love...and her mind slipped over onto thoughts of the boy she had been with the night before....

Clearly, Connie never seriously contemplates what she may become; in effect, she does not ask herself the questions, "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" in order to formulate some purpose and goals in her life. And, so, because she has been seduced by music and movies and daydreams in the sun, Connie finds herself victimized by one who has been watching where she has been going and what she has been doing.  She has lost herself and her family both to the subliminal perils of life wrought by suggestive music and erotic attentions.

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What does the title "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" mean?

I think that the title is really powerful.  In analyzing Oates' short story, Gale Cengage speaks to the intense nature of the title as a statement on how the real challenge in the short story speaks to how there is a gap between Connie and her parents.  For a variety of reasons, there exists a chasm between both that can be seen as the numbing reality of modern parent/ child or reflective of something more intensely dangerous:

Connie's father plays a small role in her life, but by paralleling repeated phrases, Oates suggests that this is precisely the problem. Because he does not ''bother talking much'' to his family, he can hardly ask the crucial parental questions, ''Where are you going?" or "Where have you been?" The moral indifference of the entire adult society is underscored by Oates' parallel description of the father of Connie's friend, who also "never ... [bothers] to ask'' what they did when he picks up the pair at the end of one of their evenings out. Similarly, on Sunday morning, "none of them bothered with church," not even that supposed paragon, June.

The title is powerful in this respect.  The two most basic questions that all parents must ask of their teens reside in "Where are you going?" and when the children return, "Where have you been?"  This is something that forms the basis of any solidified notion of parenting because it shows care and devotion, almost to the point where receiving angst from a child for such question can be seen as a note of distinction and success.  I think that this becomes the basis for the title, something that is important in that these two questions are never asked by Connie's parents.  Whether they see it as trying to respect Connie's freedom or not wanting to engage her in confrontation, Oates' title brings to light that there is a parenting challenge present.  She is too skilled to lay the blame at their doorstep, the very same one that Arnold Friend threatened their own harm to Connie and compelling her to leave home because of it.  Yet, it is a significant point made in the title that these two questions, some of the foundational in all parenting, were never asked from the parents.  Sadly, with the ending, these two questions are the two questions that the parents will most commonly ask over and over when they return to find Connie gone, presumably never to return.  It is here where I think that the story's title is powerful and meaningful.

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