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 are the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution of the short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been"?

The story begins with an exposition of Connie's family and the way she spends her time as a way of giving insight into her teenage life. Connie engages in flirtatious activity and delves deeper into her town's social scene. At a gathering, she runs into Arnold Friend, who later makes Connie uneasy when he shows up at her house uninvited. This tension reaches a climax as she realizes Arnold and his companion intend to harm Connie, then she joins the men as the story comes to its end.

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This question is asking for a basic plot analysis. Often teachers will make students graph these sections out on a pyramid or triangle. The exposition in this story is the introduction to setting, Connie, and some of her family members. We learn things about Connie, such as her age, but we also learn important things, such as that Connie is very aware of her looks and image:

She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right. Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn’t much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it. “Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you’re so pretty?”

Regarding the rising action(s), sometimes it is easier to identify the story's climax first. The climax is a story's turning point. Often, it can be a very intense moment in the story. In this story, the climax occurs just before Connie tries to call the police. The rising action is everything before this moment and following the exposition. I do think that a reader could defend the phone call moment as the climax, but I think it comes before. Specifically, I think the climax is when Connie screams the following line.

“You better not! I’m going to call the police if you—if you don’t—”

This is the final time that Connie really tries to fight against Friend. He, of course, has an answer for everything, and he calmly explains that a screen door won't stop him. He also lets Connie know that the phone call will be the end of her. From this point forward, Connie's responses are "whispered." She's done fighting. The inevitability of the situation is sinking in, and she realizes that Friend is going to win the fight. The reader realizes this too, but we do continue to hope that Connie will be rescued. Friend coming in the house and having Connie hang up the phone is part of the falling action, and the conclusion is Connie mechanically leaving the house with Friend in a zombie-like trance.

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You must be sure to include the idea of conflict when discussing rising action, climax, and falling action.  The rising action is when the main conflict is introduced and the protagonist typically makes some attempts at solving said conflict.  For instance, if the major conflict of this story is read as an inner conflict for Connie as she comes of age, the rising action must include how she initially begins to deal with this conflict, such as exploring her independence when out with her friends, or staying behind while her sister and parents go to a family party.

The climax is then when the protagonist typically makes a decision about how to definitely deal with the conflict.  The falling action is the process of the character...

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carrying out said decision.

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The exposition for this story, or the background information, include the description of Connie's home life, her family, her relationship with her parents and how they view her as opposed to her sister June.

The rising action begins with Connie's realization that she is pretty and enjoys attracting boys and flirting.  Connie's actions of sneaking away with Eddie, a boy she took off with when she was  supposed to be with her girlfriends makes her feel very smug and successful at being able to fool her parents.  

Although her mother is suspicious of what Connie is doing, she does nothing about it.  She just complains about her daughter's behavior.

The climax of the story comes when the two men come to Connie's house. She is alone, her family has gone to a barbecue. 

When Arnold Friend and Ellie arrive at her house, she is initially excited about the possibility that she was being sought out.  She even thinks that she remembers one of the boys.

The falling action occurs as Connie struggles psychologically with the two men, not boys, and realizes that they have come to harm her.  She is helpless and alone.  She is manipulated by Arnold Friend, he convinces her that she must go along with them, or her whole family will be harmed. 

The resolution occurs when Connie submits to Arnold Friend and leaves the house to join him in his car.  

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Through the summary of the story, located on eNotes through this link:, you will be able to discern what each is.  In order to do so, you must understand what each of these literary terms means.  Exposition is the introduction to the story in which you get background on the setting, characters, situation, etc.  Rising action is the events leading up to the climax, which is the moment of highest tension in the story.  Falling action is the events leading to the resolution of the story, which is its conclusion or end, when a conflict has been resolved or sometimes not resolved. 

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