Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? book cover
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What happens in Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been??

Beautiful, self-absorbed fifteen-year-old Connie spends all her time hanging out with her friends at the mall or the local drive-in. One night, an older boy spots her there and says, "Gonna get you, baby."

  • On Sunday, Connie decides to stay home while her family goes to a barbecue. The older boy, Arnold Friend, drives up with another boy and asks Connie to go for a ride. She likes his faded jeans and his big black boots and briefly considers leaving with him.
  • Gradually, Connie realizes that there's something off about Arnold Friend. He appears to be wearing a wig, and he's much older than Connie's friends. He also knows too much about her, including that her parents are gone, where they are, and how long they'll be.
  • Frightened, Connie calls out for her mother and tries to place a call. Arnold tells her that if she doesn't come out now, he's going to wait around for her family, and they're going to "get it." This finally convinces Connie to come out. It's presumed that she's going to be kidnapped and raped.

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Of all Joyce Carol Oates’s stories, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” has generated the most critical commentary and the most discussion. After it was originally published, Oates added the dedication to Bob Dylan for his song “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” (where the title question occurs), a song she called “very beautiful, very disturbing,” and which recalled to her the legend of Death and the Maiden. The story itself moves from intense psychological realism to surreal myth.

The story starts innocently enough with a description of the fifteen-year-old Connie, who, like many adolescent girls, sleepwalks through life listening to music only she seems to hear. Connie and her friends frequent the mall, and she has begun some kind of sexual experimentation and has been with boys “the way it was in movies and promised in songs.”

The mythic journey begins one hot Sunday afternoon when Connie is home alone—having refused to accompany her family to a barbecue—and two boys in an open jalopy pull into her driveway. She recognizes one of them from the mall the night before, but she knows neither and, as she talks with the driver through her screen door, the scene becomes more and more dreamlike. The driver introduces himself as “Arnold Friend” and his passenger as “Ellie,” but something is wrong about both of them. For one thing, Arnold’s language—the rambling patter with which he assaults her—is out-of-date. In addition, although he wears the standard 1950’s dress of jeans and tight shirt, he has trouble walking in his boots, seems to be wearing a wig, and is older than he appears. He invites her to come riding with them, and Connie is mesmerized, dizzied by his incantatory words. He knows intimate details of her life that no stranger could know and threatens her family, and she feels helpless to resist him. She opens the door to a “land that Connie had...

(The entire section is 2,111 words.)