What are the major stages of "Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Joyce Carol Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" has four divisions, or stages:

1.  Duality exists within Connie -The exposition presents Connie as a self-centered fifteen-year-old who "knew she was pretty and that was everything," and her mind is filled with "trashy dreams."  There is a duality about Connie that is demonstrated with the narrator's description of how she has a blouse that looks one way at home and another way when she is away from home:  "Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home." 

2. Duality is generated from the presence of others - When Connie goes shopping or to a movie beginning with paragraph six,  Connie perpetuates this duality as she goes with boys while her face gleams with "a joy that had nothing to do with" the boy she is beside or with the place.  There is a "music" that plays that makes "everything so good."  Connie manufactures a dream-like world while she is with boys, using their attentions and feelings to mirror her own self-love, her "joy."  In this dreamlike world Connie remains; in fact, she even draws her mother into it as her mother "was simple and kindly enough to believe her."   Indeed, another duality is created as Connie and her mother

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

3. Duality is generated as an entity on its own - On the Sunday that Connie does not join her family, but lies in the sun drying her hair, "bathed in a glow of slow-pulsed joy that seemed to rise mysteriously out of the music itself," her duality has overtaken her and is manifested in the devilish person of Arnold Friend.  He is a "friend" to Connie because he has emerged from her own sinful conceit; he is her own trashy dreams come to life as he drives up while she "bathed in a glow of slow-pulsed joy that seemed to rise mysteriously out of the music (of her mind) itself."  Without the r's in his name, Arnold Friend, is an old fiend; that is, he is the evil in Connie's sexual and narcissistic thoughts, thoughts that conquer her. Now, it is Arnold Friend, not Connie, who "began to mark time with the music."

4. Duality destroys the reality and conquers Connie -   Arnold dominates Connie as he terrorizes her, "I'm your love.  You don't know what that is, but you will."  As Arnold speaks, Connie notices a familiarity to his words, "Connie somehow recognized them--the echo of a song from last year..."  For, the music is the music that Connie has heard in her own narcissism as she has been with the boys.  The devil has claimed his soul:

She was hollow with what had been fear, but what was now just an emptiness.  All that screaming had blasted it out of her....She thought, I'm not going to see my mother again.  She thought, I'm not going to sleep in my bed again.

The progression of duality is the element which creates the four stages of "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"  This duality is a sinful thing created by Connie and allowed to flourish by her parents who are not responsible enough to control Connie.  As she is concerned only with outward appearances, Connie's hollow soul is filled with the evil of self-love and erotic daydreaming, an optimum environment for the devil to enter.  And, this he does.  The hooved-beast of her trashy dreams and narcissism pervades Connie's entire being, destroying her.


booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I assume you are asking about the major sections of the plot of Joyce Carol Oates' short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?".

This story is based upon true events that took place during the 1960s in Tucson, Arizona. The main character is Connie, fifteen-years-old, that has little regard for her mother's concern or rules. She cannot see that her mother's experiences could be at all relevant to her own life. She is someone who is concerned about how she looks and about boys. Sneaking out of the house to places where older kids hang out is not unusual for Connie, even though it's "forbidden."

The first stage is where we learn about who Connie is, her family life, her attitudes, her behaviors (e.g., with family), and what is important to her. She defies the rules, doing what she wants.

In the second sections, Connie is at a diner on a date—a place where she should not be. There she notices an older boy staring at her: a guy who drives a gold car. While she is aware that he is watching her, she spends no time thinking about him. She leaves, and this ends the second stage.

In the third stage, Connie is at home alone while the rest of her family is attending a Sunday barbecue. Connie has no desire to spend time with her family there and so she stays home—without the protection of her parents. It is at this point of the story that the plot shifts. The boy in the gold car pulls up to the house and comes to the front door. He flirts and they chat; he knows a great deal more about her and her family than she would expect, but her intuition sends her signals that she may well be "playing with fire."

In the fourth and last stage, Connie, who has felt so much a woman of the world, with no need for her mother or her concerns, is suddenly thrust into circumstances of an adult (and very dangerous) world that she has so wanted to be a part of. The "boy" who calls himself Arnold Friend is much older than he first appears. He seems out of place—the designs on his car are outdated, and his responses to his friend Ellie come from older times. Arnold's tone with Connie becomes threatening. He knows the family is away and that they will not return for a while. He promises not to come inside unless Connie forces him to—by, for instance, calling the police on the phone. Ellie makes mention of ripping out the phone lines, which makes the situation even more sinister and frightening. In this stage, Connie loses her strength of self. She is like a snake's prey, hypnotized by its attacker: she becomes resigned to the fact that she will go with Arnold and will not come home again. With an almost out-of-body experience, Connie opens the door to join Arnold and Ellie, leaving the reader with a haunting sense of finality.


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