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

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The external conflict that most directly leads to the climax centers between Connie and Arnold Friend. When Connie's family leaves her home alone, Arnold unexpectedly shows up at her house, telling Connie information about herself that seems impossible for him to know.

Connie allows Arnold to emotionally and mentally manipulate...

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The external conflict that most directly leads to the climax centers between Connie and Arnold Friend. When Connie's family leaves her home alone, Arnold unexpectedly shows up at her house, telling Connie information about herself that seems impossible for him to know.

Connie allows Arnold to emotionally and mentally manipulate her. At first, she cannot even recognize the danger he presents, finding him more of a curiosity than a threat. Eventually, Connie begins to realize that Arnold could be dangerous, and she repeatedly tells him that he is "crazy." But she doesn't leave. She doesn't scream. She doesn't flee. Arnold's conversation continues to take increasingly sinister turns until finally Connie rushes back into the presumed safety of her house:

"It's just a screen door. It's just nothing." One of his boots was at a strange angle, as if his foot wasn't in it. It pointed out to the left, bent at the ankle. "I mean, anybody can break through a screen door and glass and wood and iron or anything else if he needs to, anybody at all, and specially Arnold Friend. If the place got lit up with a fire, honey, you'd come runnin' out into my arms, right into my arms an' safe at home—like you knew I was your lover and'd stopped fooling around. I don't mind a nice shy girl but I don't like no fooling around."

Connie eventually offers herself as a sort of sacrifice to save her family, walking out of her house to meet her certain doom with Arnold Friend.

The internal conflict, Connie's ultimate insecurities with herself, allows Arnold Friend to sway her decisions to his advantage. She checks both mirrors and other people's faces to gauge her own. She knows that her mother prefers her meek older sister. She has a "high-pitched and nervous laugh" in public, unlike the one she uses at home. Connie chases boys and lies about where she is, trying to fill some void in herself through the approval of others. Arnold uses this to his advantage, telling her,

"The place where you came from ain't there any more, and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out. This place you are now—inside your daddy's house—is nothing but a cardboard box I can knock down any time. You know that and always did know it. You hear me?"

Arnold erodes Connie's sense of family and safety by ultimately conveying that she doesn't belong in her family, which is a reflection of her internal conflict. This drives Connie to detach from her own body and submit to Arnold's desires:

She felt her pounding heart. Her hand seemed to enclose it. She thought for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that wasn't really hers either.

Arnold Friend is able to recognize Connie's internal conflict and then use it for his own malevolent purposes, driving the external conflict which ends Connie's life.

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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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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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