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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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Characters

  • Connie, a self-centered fifteen-year-old girl who falls prey to the manipulative Arnold Friend.
  • Arnold Friend, an older man who wears a wig and tight jeans in order to look younger. He first sees Connie at a drive-in restaurant and later comes to her house to threaten her.
  • Ellie Oscar, Arnold's accomplice, a red-haired boy who offers to tear out Connie's phone for Arnold.
  • Connie's mother, a trusting woman who doesn't question Connie's stories about where she's going and where she's been.
  • June, Connie's older, straight-laced sister.

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(Short Stories for Students)

Fifteen-year-old Connie exhibits the confusing, often superficial behavior typical of a teenage girl facing the difficult transition from girlhood to womanhood. She is rebellious, vain, self-centered, and deceitful. She is caught between her roles as a daughter, friend, sister, and object of sexual desire, uncertain of which one represents the real her; "Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home." She is deeply romantic, as shown by her awareness of popular song lyrics, but she is interested more in the concept of having a boyfriend than the boyfriend himself. She sees the boys who exhibit interest in her primarily as conquests who "dissolved into a single face that was not even a face but an idea." All of these traits make her vulnerable to Arnold Friend's manipulation. At first she is flattered by his attentions, unable to realize that he is in fact a menacing force. Connie's superficiality leads her into a situation in which she becomes powerless over the forces to which she is naively attracted.

A more complex reading of Connie's character, one that includes a glimmer of hope for reaching beyond her own self-centeredness, can be found in an article by Joyce Carol Oates. In speaking of the ending to the story, Oates points out that Connie is "capable of an unexpected gesture of heroism" when she believes her compliance with Arnold will prevent him from harming her family.

Connie's Mother
Connie's mother frequently nags her youngest daughter and often makes comparisons between her and June, her well-behaved oldest daughter. However, she also feels a closeness with Connie that makes them "sometimes, over coffee ... almost friends." Connie's mother "had been pretty once too," and therefore may prefer Connie (or so her daughter believes) to the more matronly looking June. The mother is uneasy with her daughter's behavior, most likely because she realizes that Connie's actions and manner of dress are more promiscuous than that befitting a fifteen-year-old girl. But when the mother tries to discipline her daughter, Connie believes the conflict stems from her mother's resentment of her youth and beauty. Nevertheless, the mother tries her best to trust her daughter, and that trust is interpreted by Connie as "simplicity" because she thinks her mother believes her lies about "where she's going" and "where she's been." Nevertheless, the mother has managed to form a deep connection with her daughter. Near the end of the story, Connie "[cries] for her mother" and thinks "I'm not going to see my mother again," demonstrating that Connie's rejection of her mother is a product of teenage defiance.

Arnold Friend
Initially portrayed as "a boy with shaggy black hair, in a convertible jalopy painted gold" who notices Connie at the drive-in restaurant, Arnold Friend assumes many identities throughout the story. He is the sweet-talking suitor, whose appearance Connie approves of because of his "familiar face." He is also a potential rapist and murderer who uses psychological manipulation to appeal to Connie's vanity and her need to be liked by men. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Arnold Friend is that he blends elements of romance—"I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl"—and violence—"We ain't leaving until you come with us"—in order to appeal to a young woman unsure of who she is. Arnold...

(The entire section is 2,123 words.)