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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How does the story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" end? Would you have ended it differently?

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I think there is a clear anxiety of authorship present in this story. Oates was suggesting some pretty taboo thing during the course of the book, but the way Connie describes her memories as dreamlike and suggest the possibility that the whole situation was so surreal that maybe it didn't occur frees Oates from any culpability in introducing a new destructive force in the world. Mary Shelley utilizes the same device in Frankenstein.

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I think that the ending is powerful, almost transformative in its scope.  In this, I think that Oates is trying to make a specific statement about her heroine, Connie.  From the title of the work all the way through it, there is a specific gap in the relationship between parent and child.  Connie and her parents are experiencing a particular type of disconnect.  She cannot relate to them and they cannot relate to her.  In her spirit of independence, she rejects them and in their desire to either want to give her space or not involve themselves in confrontation, they acquiesce to her wishes.  The ending of the short story is one in which Connie goes with Arnold because she does not want harm to come to her family.  She ends up recognizing what it means to care for another, to make sacrifices for one that is beloved.  It is for this reason that Connie begins to feel sad that she will not see her mother again when she leaves, and that she ends up missing her mother upon her departure.  The ending is one in which Connie feels separated from herself, a reflection of how she no longer recognizes who she is as she is been forced to change and become someone else without proper adjustment.  She ends up leaving home in order to preserve it.  Connie ends up becoming someone older, someone who sacrifices.  The ending is powerful in that she becomes everything that she wasn't and promised never to be.  Connie recognizes that there is a certain amount of futility in adolescence and the stressing of individual self and identity.  In the end, Connie acknowledges the need to act in the name of social harmony and keeping an eye towards the maintenance of an order larger than herself.  It is here where I think that the ending of the short story is powerful and transformational.

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