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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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Summary

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is a short story by Joyce Carol Oates in which fifteen-year-old Connie encounters the insidious Arnold Friend.

  • Rebellious teenager Connie enjoys partying at the drive-in with her friends.
  • One Sunday, Connie is home alone when a boy she met at the drive-in comes to her house.
  • The boy, who Connie realizes is actually a much older man, introduces himself as Arnold Friend and tells a frightened Connie to get into his car.
  • Connie is initially resistant, but when Arnold threatens her family, she gives in. She laments that she will probably never see her family again.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Fifteen-year-old Connie considers herself pretty and enjoys looking at herself in mirrors, to her mother’s dismay. Connie believes this dismay stems from her mother’s loss of her own beauty, and the two are in nearly constant friction. Connie’s older sister June, who is twenty-four, is held up as an example for Connie to follow. Connie, however, finds her older sister “plain” and “chunky.” June is praised for her ability to save money and her completion of household chores, whereas Connie is berated by their mother for her “trashy daydreams.”

Connie and her friends enjoy being dropped off at a shopping plaza without adult supervision, wearing ballerina slippers and charm bracelets. Often after being dropped off, they run across the highway to a drive-in where older kids gather. They sit with their legs crossed at the ankles and their “shoulders rigid with excitement.”

One such evening, a boy named Eddie approaches Connie and asks her to eat with him. She arranges to meet her friend at 11:00 p.m. at the spot where they had been dropped off by the girl’s father. As Connie follows Eddie to his car, her eyes find another set of eyes watching her. A “boy with shaggy black hair” wags his finger at her and tells her that he is going to get her. Connie turns away and follows Eddie.

Connie and Eddie spend three hours together, first eating burgers and then going “down an alley a mile or so away.” At 11:00 p.m., Connie meets her friend at the designated spot with a teasing smile, and her friend’s father drives them home.

All summer, Connie and her friends go out several times each week, meeting boys. One Sunday, everything changes for Connie. Her family has planned to attend a barbecue at an aunt’s house, but Connie refuses to go. She is amused that her older sister has dressed up to attend an event with flies and kids running around everywhere. Taking this opportunity to enjoy the peace of her family’s absence, Connie washes her hair and then sits outside in the sun to let it dry naturally. As the sun caresses her, she dreams of the boy she was with the night before.

Eventually Connie returns indoors but soon hears a car crunching the gravel of her drive and approaching her house. She peers out but doesn’t recognize the car. Her immediate thought is a quick evaluation of how bad she must look. The car stops and toots the horn four times, as if Connie should recognize this signal.

Hanging out the screen door, Connie recognizes the driver with “shaggy, shabby black hair.” The driver asks if he is late, and Connie tells him that she doesn’t know who he is. Another boy sits in the passenger seat fidgeting with a transistor radio. The driver asks Connie to go for a ride in his bright gold car, which he says has been recently painted. She asks him what is written all over it. He responds that his name, ARNOLD FRIEND, is inscribed there, as well as a secret code: 33, 19, 17.

Arnold asks Connie to see more of what he’s written on the other side of the car, but Connie hesitates, telling him that she has things to do. Arnold tells her, “Connie, you ain’t telling the truth. This is your day set aside for a ride with me and you know it."

Thus far, Connie has not shared her name with Arnold Friend, so this catches her by surprise. Arnold tells her that he and Ellie Oscar, the other boy in the car, have come especially for her. Connie again questions how he knows her name, and Arnold tells her that he knows “lots of things” about her. He begins naming her friends and tells her that he knows “everybody.” He reminds Connie that she has seen him before and then shows her the “sign” that he wrote in the air that night she first walked by: an X.

Suddenly aware that Arnold Friend is no boy but an older man, Connie begins taking note of Arnold Friend’s physical features: big teeth, slits for eyes, tarlike eyelashes. She remarks that Ellie, who is pressing the transistor radio to his ear, is “kinda strange.”

Connie recommends that the boys leave, but Arnold Friend tells her that they aren’t leaving until she comes with them. Trying to create an exit for them, Connie tells them that her father will be home soon. Arnold Friend tells her that she’s lying; her father is at a barbecue in her Aunt Tillie’s yard as her sister wears a blue dress and her mother shucks corn.

Connie calls him crazy, but Arnold Friend insists that he’s her lover, though she doesn’t know it yet. He promises to be “nice” and “polite” and promises that she will love him. Again, Connie calls him crazy, and now her heart is beating fast. She screams at him to leave and threatens to call the police.

Running inside her house for protection allows Connie no escape. Arnold Friend tells her that he is not going to come inside her house but also tells her that she is not going to call the police. Staying inside, Connie calls him crazy twice more and Arnold Friend asks her, “Don’t you know who I am?” He then tells her that she is going to come outside because if not, they will wait until her family returns and then “they’re all going to get it.”

Connie runs for the phone but finds that all she can do is scream and cry into it. The wails of her sorrow rise all around her and fill the house. Finally, she finds herself sitting with her back against a wall with Arnold Friend telling her to place the phone back in its correct position. She complies.

This time when Arnold Friend asks her to come outside, she begins walking toward him, filled now not with fear but with emptiness. She realizes that she will never again sleep in her own bed. She tries to find a way out of this situation, but all she feels is her own beating heart; she realizes that even her heart has never really belonged to her.

Connie feels the linoleum under her feet as she walks to Arnold Friend, who now stands with his arms open for her. She watches herself push the door open and move into the sunlight, where Arnold Friend waits for her.

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