The character Arnold Friend was based on an actual murderer in Tucson, Arizona. Joyce Carol Oates read about Charles Schmid, a serial killer, in Life magazine and was fascinated by this strange criminal. Oates wrote the story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” not intending to retell the Schmid story but only to parallel some of the characteristics of both criminals.
Featuring a young, pretty teenager, Connie, as the protagonist of the story, part of the story concerns the struggle between mother and daughter during the difficult teen years. Connie wants no part of the family group…she makes fun of her sister, fights with her mother, and fools her father. She finds great pleasure in attracting boys and even men.
Unfortunately for Connie, she attracts one too many men. Connie’s maturity is a façade. She has no experience except what she has seen at the movies or in magazines. Arnold Friend, the antagonist, discovers Connie. His persona does not please Connie. When she is home alone, Friend shows up with his friend. Arnold frightens Connie, and she asks him to leave. She realizes that he knows too much about her family and where they are and what they are doing.
“But I know what it is. I know your name and all about you, lots of things,” Arnold Friend said. He had not moved yet but stood still leaning back against the side of his jalopy. “ I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl, and found out all about you---like I know your parents and sister are gone somewheres and I know where an how long they’re going to be gone...”
Friend’s character represents both fantasy and reality. His looks are strange; when up close, it is obvious that he is older than first perceived. He wears dark glasses, and his hair could be a wig. That is superfluous to his intentions. He intends to take charge of Connie.
Arnold Friend will force Connie to move from her sexual fantasy world and experimentation into his world of almost demonic adulthood. When she tries to hide in her house, Arnold threatens her with hurting her family if she does not come out and go for a ride with him.
The story leaves much of the imprisoning of Connie to the reader’s imagination. In the end, Connie realizes that she might be able to keep her family from harm; she hesitatingly agrees to go with him.