Write a character analysis of Connie in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"Joyce Carol Oates

Quick Answer

Fifteen-year-old Connie is a stereotypical teenage girl: rebellious, superficial, and vain, she often lies to her mother about where she's going and where she's been. She enjoys hanging out with her friends at the mall or at a local drive-in restaurant, where she catches the eye of "Arnold Friend," an older man almost certainly using an assumed name. Arnold frightens Connie, causing her to call out for her mother. In these final moments, it becomes clear how much Connie actually loves her family. She sacrifices herself so that they won't get hurt. Even though Connie is a superficial character, she does make a noble gesture at the end of the story.

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Joyce Carol Oates story, Connie is, at first, a stereotypical teenage girl, superficial, self-centered, vain, and deceitful.  As she makes the transition from girlhood to womanhood, she detours into her "trashy daydreams" and her duality of nature:

She wore a pulover 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, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home:  her walk that could be childlike and bobing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head....

The music that "made everything so good" is always in the background of Connie's head, as she feels it is like the music at a church service, "something to depend upon."

Finally, however, Connie's trashy daydreams and music materialize in the shape of Arnold Friend, who drives up to her house where she is alone, having refused to accompany her family to a barbeque at her aunt's.  In a vehicle suggestive of the "magic whirling ship" of Bob Dylan's song, "Mr. Tambourine Man," Connie finds herself reflected in the "tiny metallic world" of Arnold's sunglasses.  Without the rs in his name, the man who is older than he at first appears is An old   Fiend, the embodiment of her trashy daydreams to extreme.  Faced with the psychological horror dealt her by Arnold, Connie shakes herself from her hedonism and becomes, as Oates herself states in an article, capable of "a heroic gesture":  She sacrifices herself and gets into Friend's car so that her family will be unharmed upon their return home.  As she rides away, Connie faces the existential question of the story's title, perhaps in a new order:  "where have you been, where are you going?"

edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tools of that a writer uses for characterization include description, what the character says and does—which can contain discrepancies—and what others say about the character. Here are examples of each to assist in a character analysis of Connie.

Description: Connie "was fifteen" and had "a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors." It is fair to say that she is immature and in the self-absorbed throes of adolescent girlhood. She is entering a personality phase some call boy crazy and spends weeks of her summer vacation "thinking, dreaming about the boys she met." The narrator offers that "everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home" to suggest the typical duplicity that comes with teen rebellion.

What the character says/does with discrepancies: Connie sometimes thinks to herself that she wishes both she and her mother were dead "and it was all over." She tells her friends "She makes me want to throw up sometimes." However, when Arnold Friend has her cornered, Connie "cried for her mother" and thought "I'm not going to see my mother again," two clear indications that she does love and need her mother.

The character who probably knows Connie best is her mother; what she says about Connie is that she is vain, she tells her "stop gawking at yourself." Her exasperation with Connie is clear on the day of the barbecue when she tells her "stay home alone then" when Connie rolls her eyes at the prospect of a family gathering.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question