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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What is the mood of Joyce Carol Oates' “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

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Mood and tone are often confused or even used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Tone refers to the author's or speaker's attitude about something, and mood refers to the feelings that the literary piece gives to readers. Mood can be developed through setting, themes, tone, and diction

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The mood of "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" is not the same throughout the story. The mood of the piece at the story's start could be described as giddy, flirty, hopeful, optimistic, and even dreamy. Connie exists in a fantasy world in that she believes that she is much better than her sister and family. She exists for fun and believes that her looks are important to her overall character. We get to see her giggling with her friends and jingling her bracelets. She flirts with boys, listens to fun music, and loves the "pure pleasure of being alive." It's a really happy feeling that is created at the start of the story; however, all of that changes once Arnold Friend shows up. At that point, the mood of the story turns ominous. Connie and readers alike feel apprehensive about this predatory person. As Arnold continues his advances, the mood becomes more suspenseful, worrisome, foreboding, and even confining. We feel that Connie should try to escape, but every tactic she tries is stopped by Arnold.

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Mood is defined as:

The atmosphere that pervades a literary work with the intention of evoking a certain emotion or feeling from the audience.

The mood of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” begins with Oates' description of Connie. She is fifteen and believes that everything revolves around her and her looks. She is not very mature. She believes she is grown up enough, for example, to hang out with the older kids at the drive-in restaurant across the highway, but she does so without her mother's permission or knowledge. Frankly, Connie is really very childish. The author presents Connie's attitude:

Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn't much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about [glancing into mirrors...]


...Connie's mother kept picking at her until Connie wished her mother were dead and she herself were dead and it were all over. "She makes me want to throw up sometimes," she complained to her friends...

It doesn't take long before the reader understands that Connie has little respect for her mother; she dismisses her sister because she is "so plain and chunky and steady;" she hates her mother's control over her life; and, she sneaks out where she should not go. And being pretty is more important than anythingelse in the world. She likes to draw attention to herself: we can assume, the attention of a boy:

She wore a pullover jersey blouse that looked one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home.

Connie believes in things that she sees in movies and hears in love songs. But life is often not like a love song—she attracts the attention of a creature she doesn't even know exists.

By the time Connie arrives one particular night at the drive-in restaurant, the mood may be found in the reader's response. One may be annoyed, entertained, sympathetic or even impatient: she is nasty toward her mother and sister. She does not help even though everyone else in her house contributes in some way. Connie daydreams and studies herself in the mirror all day. 

By the end of the story, however, the mood has changed drastically. The reader may be puzzled as Connie is at first when the two young men who show up at her house—the only thing she does care about is how she looks. She catches Arnold Friend early on in two lies: both about how old he is, but she isn't worried. She notices details about him that send negative signals, but Connie, who knows nothing of someone like Arnold, continues to chat and question—all the while he is spinning a sticky web, playing mind games with her to control her. He is slick and practiced. The mood alters—something is off about him. He pretends to be relaxed: he must be nervous about something. He orders her to come outside but she won't. He refuses to leave; Ellie offers to rip out the phone lines. Arnold knows she's alone. And then he threatens to "hurt" her family. His meaning is clear.

By the story's end, Connie has gone beyond terror. She feels empty. She knows she won't see her mother again and that she'll never sleep in her bed again. 

The reader has seen evil:

I'll tell you how it is, I'm always nice at first, the first time. I'll hold you so tight you won't think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you'll know you can't.

Because while this is fiction, it is based on a truestory and so the sense of horror does not dissipate when the book is closed. 

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In Joyce Carol Oates' "Where are you going, Where have you been?" what is the tone of the story?

The short story “Where are you going, where have you been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, first published in 1966, was inspired by the true story of a murderer and his crime. It’s a disturbing story which gradually builds up a sense of fear. The tone of a story is created by how the writer describes what is going on, rather than specifically what they say. As with a tone of voice, the tone in a story can add extra or different layers to the feeling of the story. As such, it’s possible for the tone to change within a story as we can see to some extent in this particular example. Things like setting, characters, descriptions, and other word choices help us determine the tone.

While at the beginning there is a certain amount of irony or cynicism in the writer’s attitude towards Connie, the main character whose point of view the story is told from, by the end both the reader and Connie are full of fear and worried about what will happen next; the tone is more sympathetic and concerned. Consider, for example, how Oates builds up a sinister, uncomfortable atmosphere through gradually adding more and more awkward details into the description of the men in the car and how they interact with Connie.

Think about the feelings evoked in quotes such as these:

Then he began to smile again. She watched this smile come, awkward as if he were smiling from inside a mask. His whole face was a mask, she thought wildly

Then later:

The kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before, some room she had run inside but that wasn't good enough, wasn't going to help her.

And also:

She put out her hand against the screen. She watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were back safe somewhere in the other doorway, watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited.

In all of these, tension is built through the emotions described and the way we become gradually more aware of the desperate situation in which the protagonist finds herself. As such, words like sinister, uncomfortable, and terrifying come to mind, but at the same time the writer keeps a certain distance in the writing, so the tone is at once concerned and distant, almost as if there is nothing the writer can do about what is about to happen. Look for examples, perhaps, of places where the writer seems to really care about what happens to Connie, or think about whether there are any passages where the writer is sympathetic or otherwise to Arthur Friend and his gang.

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In Joyce Carol Oates' "Where are you going, Where have you been?" what is the tone of the story?

I'd say that the tone is distant, sometimes bleak, and sometimes ironic. Take this line from early in the story: "Connie would raise her eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look right through her mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything." It is ironic to say that being pretty is everything. It isn't, and very much so. Arnold Friend (another irony—he's no friend) threatens the destruction of everything Connie cares about. Friend destroys her life, and changes her world. That's pretty bleak, and Oates delivers his insanity in a distant, almost objective tone.

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