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 does Connie symbolize in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

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Connie is a symbol, representing the materialistic world in her duality; and she represents the symbolic world in her naivety.

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Inspired to write her short story "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" after reading an account in Life magazine of a strangely influential young man who lured and then killed several girls in Tucson, Arizona, in the early 1960s, Joyce Carol Oates 's character of Connie represents the naive, superficial, and self-centered pretty...

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teen-aged girl with Romantic illusions, caught between childhood and adulthood.  (Some critics even go so far as to say that she represents Eve, or spiritually unenlightened humanity.)  As the selfish, naive, and pretty teen, Connie is a fusion of the materialistic and symbolic world in her duality:

Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home:  her walk that could be childlike and bobbing or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head....

Unconcerned about the other members of her family, Connie is consumed with her "trashy daydreams"; when she is with her friends, she talks in an exaggerated manner, high and breathless,

which made everything she said sound a little forced whether it was sincere or not.

But, the boys who pay attention to Connie, whom she enjoys ignoring, fade from a face to "an idea." Her complacency in her beauty leads the naive Connie to lose touch with reality because "[S]he knew she was pretty and that was everything." In her delight with the materialistic world in which beauty is so highly valued, Connie also creates a symbolic world in which music "made everything so good."  It is this symbolic world that Arnold Friend, himself a preternatural character, invades.  And, he invades it because in her duality, Connie has allowed illusion in the form of music to enter and make her susceptible to evil.

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

Oates in many ways gives Connie distinct physical characteristics and puts her in a distinct family, but she also presents her as an "every girl," a very typical, pretty teenage girl coming into an awareness of her own sexuality.

Connie is described in ways that make her seem like an average teen of her period. She has "a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors." Her mind is "all filled with trashy daydreams." She is merged with her best friend in the following description, emphasizing her "teenager" status:

They must have been familiar sights, walking around the shopping plaza in their shorts and flat ballerina slippers that always scuffed the sidewalk, with charm bracelets jingling on their thin wrists.

Connie could be any middle-class adolescent girl feeling adulthood coming and enjoying the independence it brings, but she is still an innocent child.

Oates makes it clear that Connie has done nothing especially abnormal or egregious when she attracts the attention of a psychopathic killer. Though her attitude toward her parents and sister may be rude, she still holds a large degree of innocence and even love for her family (as is seen with her sacrifice for them at the end), and her teenage rebellion is somewhat normal.

This is what brings the poignant note to the story of her being abducted for rape and murder (Arnold Friend is based on a killer, Charles Schmid). Connie, no more than any young girl, doesn't deserve rape and death for innocently enjoying her budding sexuality, but because of that sexuality, she attracts the attention of Friend. Connie doesn't realize that this might make her—or any teenager—seem fair game to predatory and twisted men who see women not as fully human but as prey.

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