Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Characters

Joyce Carol Oates


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...

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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Themes and Characters

The tale of an insecure, romantic teenage girl drawn into a situation of foreboding violence, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" presents several themes that arise from the interaction of sharply drawn characters engaged in psychological manipulation.

Connie prides herself on being a skilled flirt who has never been in a situation she could not handle. She feels confident when Arnold Friend arrives at her door while she is alone in the house: "Who the hell do you think you are?" she asks. Mistaking him for the type of boy she frequently attracts, she thinks she recognizes him from the sound of his car's horn, from his clothing and appearance, and from the banter with which he attempts to lure her into his car. Both Arnold and Connie contribute to these erroneous first impressions. Arnold assumes the role of teenage Romeo although he is much older, and Connie accepts his facade because of her fondness for the "trashy daydreams" to which her mother accuses her of subscribing. Because the story is told from Connie's perspective (although she is not the narrator), readers see the gradual dismantling of these first impressions through her eyes. She concludes that Arnold's hair may be a wig, that his tan is the result of makeup, and that his boots "must have been stuffed with something so that he would seem taller." Though the veracity of these observations is never proven, they reveal Connie's realization that Arnold is not what he seems. His romantic words are not original, but taken from popular songs, and his manner is that of "a hero in a movie." Nothing about Arnold Friend is genuine, except his violent intentions and his skill at psychological and physical intimidation. By the story's end, Connie understands that she is not the confident flirt she thought, but a powerless pawn in the hands of a dangerous individual.

Connie is vulnerable to Arnold Friend's manipulations primarily because she has no clear identity of her own. As a teenager, she is neither a child nor a woman. Connie attempts to establish her identity by testing the boundaries her parents set for her, assuming a different persona at home than with her friends, and seeking validation of her attractiveness from the boys at the drive-in restaurant. She identifies her worth as a person with her physical beauty, a factor that causes her to disparage her sister, fight with her mother, and engage in the "habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right." Connie's behavior is typical among teenagers searching for identity. Though Connie's encounter with Arnold Friend is extreme, Oates devised the situation to illustrate how an unstable identity can make an adolescent—especially a girl—susceptible to exploitation by someone who knows how to feed a vain, unsteady ego for his own interests and desires. Connie is practiced in acting out the stereotype of a pretty girl. By the time Arnold asks her, "What else is there for a girl like you but to be sweet and pretty and give in?" she feels she can do nothing but comply. Trusting in her incomplete identity to the end, she is led to ruin.

Her unstable identity provides Connie with a mentality that...

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