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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Arnold Friend's Role and Symbolism in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"


Arnold Friend in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" symbolizes evil and manipulation. He represents a predatory figure who uses charm and psychological tactics to control and terrorize the protagonist, Connie. His character can be seen as a personification of danger lurking in seemingly ordinary situations, reflecting broader themes of innocence lost and the dark side of human nature.

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What does Arnold Friend represent in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

In "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" Connie first sees Arnold Friend at the drive-in restaurant.  He seems smooth and cool, the epitome of the 'bad-boy image with his "shaggy black hair" and "convertible jalopy painted gold." 

Connie struggles with growing up; she feels trapped between her girlhood and the woman she wants to be.  Oates describes Connie as having two sides: "one for home and one for anywhere that was not home."  She dresses, walks, and even laughs differently.  

When Connie first encounters Arnold Friend, at the drive-in, she's not carrying herself as young-girl Connie; this Connie is the brazen, bright pink lipstick Connie, who deeply desires more than just the attention of Eddie, the 'boy-next-door.'

Connie often spends time:

"dreaming about the boys she met. But all the boys fell back and dissolved into a single face that was not even a face but an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent insistent pounding of the music and the humid night air of July."

For Connie, Arnold becomes her elusive dream boy, the 'bad' one that her alter-ego continues to think about.  Friend represents Connie's desire to overcome her feelings of repression and to leave her childhood behind her. 

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Summarize the character Arnold Friend from "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Arnold Friend is described in a way that makes him seem creepy and pathetic. He hangs around places where teenagers go, possibly because he is targeting young girls. Connie thinks he must be much older than she is, possibly thirty; she also noticed he might be wearing shoes designed to make him appear taller, which hints at his lack of self-confidence. This detail also might explain why he targets young girls, since his self-consciousness about his height may indicate he can't manage to connect sexually with women closer to his own age.

He has been watching Connie for a while and knows her friends' names, where they go and where her family is as well as what they look like. In modern parlance we'd call him a "stalker." He is clearly a predator, whose single-minded purpose is to seduce Connie, whether with his compliments and manipulative words (he says he is her lover, calls her pretty, and describes how close they will be if she lets him do what he wants), or by intimidation (he says he and his friend Ellie won't leave unless she comes out of her house). He is persuasive and aggressive, but does not use actual physical force. It seems to be a point of pride with him that he manages to talk Connie into coming with him, instead of resorting to physical violence. In this way he perpetuates a fantasy that Connie a willing participant, and not a victim, which hints at his narcissism and delusions of grandeur.

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What does Arnold Friend symbolize in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Because of the way he is characterized, Arnold Friend symbolizes evil.

Even Arnold Friend's name reflects his evil intentions. By removing the r from both names, we are left with "An Old Fiend." When he arrives at Connie's house, Arnold Friend gives the horn "four short taps, as if this were a signal Connie knew." Careful readers might recognize the allusion to "Taps," a song often played at funerals.

Arnold Friend looks as if he does "hard work," and his nose is "hawklike." When Friend takes off his sunglasses, Connie notices how pale his skin is, and later she believes that his entire face is a "mask." He keeps wobbling in his boots, and it seems as though "his feet did not go all the way down." Readers can infer that perhaps Arnold Friend does not have human feet at all, but instead has hooves, which are often associated with the devil.

The various aspects of Arnold Friend's physical description reflect that he could be the devil incarnate. He seems to possess an unnatural ability to predict human behavior and to have insight into events he is not present to witness:

"If my father comes and sees you—"

"He ain't coming. He's at a barbecue."

"How do you know that?"

"Aunt Tillie's. Right now they're uh—they're drinking. Sitting around," he said vaguely, squinting as if he were staring all the way to town and over to Aunt Tillie's back yard. Then the vision seemed to get clear and he nodded energetically. "Yeah. Sitting around. There's your sister in a blue dress, huh?"

Arnold Friend convinces Connie that she must comply with his wishes in order to spare her family; she agrees to his terms, knowing that she must surrender both her sexuality and her life in order to keep her family safe. Connie feels that she must accept her fate and that she is powerless against the desires of Arnold Friend.

The characterization of Arnold Friend, his supernatural knowledge, and his horrific plans for Connie combine to create a chilling character who symbolizes evil.

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