What are the external and internal conflicts in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been"?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are several conflicts in Joyce Carol Oates's disturbing story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

EXTERNAL CONFLICTS

  • Connie conflicts with her mother, who finds Connie vain, sloppy, and cheap. She scolds Connie for not keeping her room clean.
  • Connie has "...two sides to it [her personality], one for home and one for anywhere that was not home." For example, Connie has one laugh at home, which is "cynical and drawling." This laugh causes friction with her mother. She has another laugh when she is out, which is "high-pitched and nervous"; this is the laugh she uses with boys.
  • Connie becomes so weary of her mother's criticisms that she sometimes wishes that her mother were dead and that "she herself were dead and it was over."

"...the two of them kept up a pretense of exasperation, a sense that they were tugging and struggling over something of little value to either of them."

  • One Sunday Connie refuses to join her family at her aunt's barbecue.
  • When Arnold Friend later arrives, he tells Connie that she will come with him. "I want you," he tells her.
  • Later, Arnold frightens Connie into coming outside because he threatens to harm her family: "You don't want them to get hurt."

INTERNAL CONFLICTS

  • Connie's mind is so filled with cluttered thoughts that she cannot find the time to clean her room, much to the exasperation of her mother. 
  • As she lies in the sun, Connie daydreams with carnal images. However, she grows too hot as she lies in the sun. So she goes indoors; there she turns on the radio in order "to drown out the quiet." 
  • When Arnold Friend arrives, Connie experiences her first serious anxiety: "She spoke sullenly, careful to show no interest or pleasure." 
  • As she looks at Arnold Friend's car, Connie becomes more worried.
  • Connie becomes anxious about Arnold, wondering who he is, and she is frightened by his explicit sexual language.
  • He tells Connie that she must come with him or her family will get hurt. "Don't you know who I am?" he asks, and Connie becomes terrified.
  • Connie grows sick with fear. She tries to scream into the telephone and cries for her mother. 
  • Connie has a sick premonition as Arnold induces her to come outside. "She was hollow with what had been fear, but what was now just an emptiness." She worries that she will never see her mother again. 
  • Connie opens the screen door, and as she rides in Arnold's car, a terrified Connie does not recognize where she is going, but she knows that she is headed for this unknown place.
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podunc's profile pic

podunc | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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The external conflict of the story is the fact that Arnold Friend, who appears to be sexual predator of some sort, seeks out Connie to take her from her parents' home. The reason he succeeds is because of Connie's internal conflict. Her internal conflict stems from the fact that she has no sense of who she is, and only measures herself by gauging other's opinions. She "[checks] other people's faces to make sure her own [is] all right" and has a history of letting boys have their way with her. Because of this deep insecurity, Connie is not able to resist Arnold Friend and leaves with him in his car.

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