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

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

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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,...

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giorgi-piorgi | Student

Joyce Carol Oates chose to call this story "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" because of how it deals with youth culture and identity. The main character, Connie, is at a crossroads of her own identity, and is considering whether to adopt the safe lifestyle of her parents and her older sister, or whether to find a greater measure of freedom, at the expense of danger. Where Connie has "been" is the traditional culture of the 1950s and early 1960s, while where she is going is representative of her more rebellious new attitudes.

As a larger statement, Oates is using Connie to illuminate the state of youth culture in general at that historical moment. The entire generation that was at adolescent age during the 1960s was having to make the choice of whether to go with the same values as their parents, or whether to forge their own paths. As we can see looking backward in history, they chose the latter, but in this moment, before this progression has gone very far, Oates is cautioning youth to be more cognizant of their choices.

The questions "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" are meant to remind young people that the ways they spend their time, like Connie's frivolous hookups and shallow interests, are actively creating where they are "going." In light of this, Oates is asking them to take a little more time to think about where they've "been," and where they want to be "going." In sum, the title is about the relationship between a person's past and future, and what that means for their identity.