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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Which trait makes Connie vulnerable to Arnold Friend in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

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Connie is a young girl who dreams of the glamorous life she sees in the movies. She lives in a boring suburbia with her parents and little sister. Arnold Friend steps into her life as an exciting new friend, someone to show her that there is more to life. He takes her out at night, shows off his car and buys her gifts. Connie becomes infatuated with Arnold, but he ends up kidnapping and killing her. The film was shot in 1980 over the course of 13 days for the amount of $777,000 (less than one million dollars). The movie was distributed by New World Pictures and first released on May 5, 1982.

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On the surface, Connie's vulnerability is evident through her adolescent curiosity, her smug arrogance, and the self-knowledge that she possesses about her own good looks.  Her sister June has followed the path of the straight and narrow; Connie, however, is more of a rebel and much more easily swayed by...

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someone who is at least a "bad boy" and at worst something more sinister.  Connie clearly wants to break free of her parental bonds, and Arnold represents just the type of escape she is looking for.  However, her naivte (and the fact that, like Holden Caulfiled, she is teetering on the brink of childhood and adulthood) about the adult world blinds her from seeing just how dangerous a threat Arnold is. 

On a deeper level, the story is a commentary on the dull, uninspiring life of suburban America.  Connie is lost among cookie-cutter houses, boring afternoon barbeques, and redundant trips to the mall.  Like many American teenagers, the movies and the mall are about the only places for teens to hang out, and here comes Arnold Fiend (er, Friend, if you get my meaning) like a character out of a James Dean movie: leather jacket, souped-up car, slick hair, and a bad attitude.  He is the "danger" that is missing from her life.  Her failure to avoid his charms is ultimately the testament to her vulnerability.

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What is it about Connie's personality that makes her a perfect target for Arnold Friend to prey on?

I think that there has to be some level of caution in ensuring that Connie does not receive the blame for being victimized by Arnold.  I think that Oates is fairly complex enough to make the situations nuanced enough whereby Connie can be seen as an unfortunate pawn of circumstances.  Additionally, the fate that Connie endures as well as the transformation that she undergoes at the end is something where I don't see that Connie can be blamed in too harsh of a way.  On one hand, I think that Arnold is able to seize upon how Connie sees herself through the eyes of others.  Connie is driven to appeal to the social standard of beauty.  While she asserts individuality and freedom, as a young person of the 1960s, she is chained to the idea of how a girl is supposed to look and within this, the social standard of beauty that she aspires to is something whereby beauty must be socially acknowledged.  Arnold does just that when he first sees her and when she flirtatiously looks at him.  Arnold recognizes that Connie is also defined by popular culture.  Arnold's style of fashion, the car, and the songs that Ellie is listening to are all aspects of the pop setting that Connie is a part of, enabling Arnold to possess an "in" with his conversation.  Had Connie been like June, someone "plain" and more traditional, Arnold's tactics would not have been successful.  It is because Connie is so driven by popular culture and the standards it espouses that she seeks to be the way she is, and Arnold's luring of her takes place within this context.

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