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 was Oates' purpose in writing "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

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Joyce Carol Oates wrote her short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" after reading about the 1950s serial murders of Charles Schmid, a story that was profiled in Life magazine. For one thing, she was concerned with the increasing fixation on sexual themes in the youth culture of the 1960s. Then, the inspiration to write this story came to Oates with Bob Dylan's song "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."

Some critics perceive Oates's narrative as an allegory for an encounter with the devil in the person of Arnold Friend, and others perceive it as criticism of contemporary youth and its obsession with sexual themes in the music to which they listen (not unlike Dylan's song).

Representative of this sex-obsessed youth, Connie is a pretty girl who knows that beauty "is everything." While her plain sister June saves money and helps to clean the house and cooks, Connie does nothing because she is occupied with her "trashy daydreams." While she is at home, Connie walks like a child and speaks with a certain cynicism; however, when she is anywhere else, she speaks with a high-pitched and nervous tone, "like the jingling of the charms on her bracelet."

Because Connie is consumed with her own beauty and sexual attraction to boys, she does not heed the dangers associated with being in her dream world where

...all the boys [who] fell back and dissolved into a single face that was not even a face, but an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent insistent pounding of the music and the humid night air of July.

When one of her “trashy daydreams” comes to life, so to speak, in the suspicious and sinister person of Arnold Friend, Connie is suddenly confronted with the reality of the threatening aspect of her fantasies as Arnold Friend arrives and tells her, "I'm your lover, honey." In no uncertain terms, he informs Connie of what he is going to do to her, and he threatens harm to her family if she does not go with him in his vehicle. Much like the lyrics of Bob Dylan's song, Arnold says the words "My sweet little blue-eyed girl," which are not relevant to her brown eyes, as the frightened Connie looks ahead to where she is going.

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