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 role does Ellie play in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"?

Quick answer:

Ellie serves a couple of roles in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" First, his hauntingly vacant personality increases the menacing mood of the story. Second, he provides a physical threat to balance Arnold Friend's verbal manipulation.

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Ellie Oscar serves to heighten the eerie mood of the story and to provide a more physical threat to Connie.

In many ways, Ellie seems like a voiceless replica of Arnold Friend. He mirrors Arnold Friend's appearance, wearing sunglasses and a "bright orange shirt" that is unbuttoned to reveal his chest. Like Arnold Friend, Ellie at first appears younger than he actually is; only later in the story does Connie realize that he's close to forty years old but that he somehow looks like a "baby."

Ellie doesn't speak to Connie and doesn't even seem interested in Arnold Friend's plans for her. He turns up the music but doesn't look their way and instead fidgets with a radio as Arnold Friend manipulates Connie. The sight of Ellie makes Connie experience a "wave of dizziness," and Arnold Friend repeatedly belittles Ellie, who doesn't seem to mind. Ellie Oscar's presence is hauntingly vacant, as if he exists as a body without a soul. If Arnold Friend is seen as the embodiment of evil, his control over Ellie Oscar seems complete and final.

The only time Ellie speaks is to deliver a threat to support the efforts of Arnold Friend. When Connie threatens to call the police, Ellie asks, "You want that telephone pulled out?" Arnold Friend immediately reprimands Ellie for speaking at all, commanding that he "shut up" and insisting that Connie is not Ellie's "date." Arnold Friend then uses this opportunity to demonstrate a more violent side of his own personality as he tells Ellie,

"Don't crawl under my fence, don't squeeze in my chipmonk hole, don't sniff my glue, suck my popsicle, keep your own greasy fingers on yourself!" He shaded his eyes and peered in at Connie, who was backed against the kitchen table. "Don't mind him, honey, he's just a creep. He's a dope. Right? I'm the boy for you."

Arnold Friend therefore capitalizes on Ellie's physicality to present himself as a gentleman by comparison. This further exposes the psychopathic dangers that these men present to Connie.

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What does Ellie symbolize in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"?

In "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," Ellie Oscar could symbolize those who are prisoners of popular culture.

While the symbolism of Arnold Friend is much more direct, Ellie Oscar is more elusive. Some believe his name is an allusion to the Oscars, which are the pinnacle of achievements in popular culture. Ellie never leaves the car and is somewhat imprisoned there, simply taking orders from Arnold Friend. Many believe that Arnold Friend, with whom Ellie travels, is a Satanic figure. In this respect, it could be inferred that Ellie—popular culture, by extension—is controlled by evil.

In fact, one of Connie's character flaws is her obsession with popular culture. She doesn't want to be a "plain Jane" like her sister and uses her hair and clothing to draw attention. Connie goes shopping and enjoys movies, but she also sneaks around to a drive-in restaurant so that she can be around older kids. She is intentional in the way she crosses her legs and enjoys the popular music in the background of these escapades. She places herself in this environment expecting that her actions and clothing will draw the attention of boys, and it is here that Arnold Friend first sees her and promises, "Gonna get you, baby."

Ellie Oscar seemingly has no opinions of his own. Instead, he dresses much like Arnold Friend and occupies himself by fidgeting with a transistor radio. Ellie lurks in the shadows of Arnold Friend's verbal finesse, and his personality is eerily barren. Arnold Friend insults Ellie, calling him "crazy," and treats him as if Ellie "[does] not count and [Connie] should not bother with him." Ellie therefore symbolizes the possible dangers of popular culture, especially on impressionable minds; he is mindless and easily controlled.

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