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Joyce Carol Oates' short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is a frequently anthologized story that has stirred controversy since its publication.
In this disturbing story, based on the actions of serial killer Charles "Smitty" Schmid, the author focuses first on Connie, a fifteen-year old girl who struggles because she is a kid who wants to be an adult.
Connie is described as an adolescent girl who...
...sleepwalks through life listening to music only she seems to hear.
She is constantly in search of who she is. She had...
…a quick nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right.
We can understand Connie's confusion over whether she is acceptable in observing her mother's response to Connie's behavior:
Stop gawking at yourself, who are you? You think you're so pretty?
However, in this case Connie does not worry so much about what her mother says about her looks because...
…knew she was pretty and that was everything.
The reader realizes that her mother is not supportive (or perhaps is not even aware) of Connie's search for self-awareness. Her mother is also critical that Connie is not more like her sister, constantly comparing the two.
Connie's concern with her appearance is not the only thing we learn about the youngster. Using indirect characterization, the reader is able to gain insight into the kinds of things Connie does and what she thinks. While her sister June is praised for all the things she does, "Connie couldn't do a thing." Her mother's perception is that Connie is of no help around the house, and "her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams."
She is described as having...
…a high, breathless, amused voice which made everything she said sound a little forced, whether it was sincere or not.
In this we can infer that she is not always sincere in what she says. She likes to hang out with her friends at the mall, where they "lean together to whisper and laugh secretly if someone passed by who amused or interested them." In this behavior, we see that Connie is a typical young teenager. She also has a way of acting when she is out that is nothing like the person she is when she is at home.
She had a pullover jersey blouse that looked one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home. Everything about her had two sides to it...
The narrator represents Connie a young woman with chameleon-like capabilities. At home she dresses and speaks differently than when she is out. She is smirky and cynical at home. When she is out, she is a different person.
While all of this may not be unusual, it is sneaky. And it makes one wonder who Connie really is in that she is so adept at wearing different personalities depending upon where she is.
When Connie and her friend run across the highway to the hamburger place, they are described as "breathless with daring," which indicates that they should not be there. It is where the older boys hang out. Connie and her friend are not simply interested in boys. They are looking for the right kind of boys. On this particular night they are called over to a car by a boy at school that they don't like, so they simply ignore him and this makes them feel good. Obviously this experience fills them with a sense of being wanted and having the power to refuse the attention. Connie hangs out with a guy named Eddie for a couple of hours, meeting her girlfriend back at the mall just in time to get a ride home from her friend's father. When she gets home and is asked about the movie she was supposed to see, she lies as if she had been there.
Connie is young, but wants to be older. She believes that one's outward appearance is of paramount importance. She is sneaky, lies to her mother and dismisses people she does not like. However, there is an innocence to her, as seen in her thrill at being alive and her strong emotional response to music. When Arnold Friend and his buddy show up, she is smart enough to be scared. We can postulate that she may be shallow and self-absorbed, but she is also harmless and unfamiliar with the dangerous world of which she so wants to be a part.
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