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 motivates the character Arnold Friend?

Quick answer:

Arnold Friend's motivations are not entirely clear in this story, but his character is inspired by Charles Schmid, who raped and murdered a teenage girl so he could know what it felt like to kill someone. Friend is clearly a disturbed individual out to gratify his desires at the expense of others.

Expert Answers

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Oates based Arnold Friend on Charles Schmid, a murderer profiled in Life magazine. Schmid said he raped and killed Alleen Rowe, the high school student Connie is based on, because he wanted to know what it felt like to murder a person.

In the story, Arnold's motivations are not entirely clear. He comes across as mentally disturbed or "off," saying things such as "I come out here especially for you," and

I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl, and found out all about you—like I know your parents and sister are gone somewheres and I know where and how long they're going to be gone, and I know who you were with last night ...

Connie remembers having seen Arnold at the drive-in, where she likes to hang out with her friends and flirt with teenage boys. As Arnold talks, we realize he must have been stalking her for some time and that the crime he has in mind, which he tells her is rape and which we know from the context of Schmid will include murder, has been premeditated.

Connie, who has been naïve up until this encounter, is clearly frightened. She tries to escape him by running into the house, locking the screen door, and threatening to call the police. He tells her if she does, he can easily break down the screen door and come after her. He threatens to harm her family if she doesn't come with him.

Friend, described in the story as "thirty, maybe more," is a disturbed, probably sociopathic individual who comes across as thinking of other people as objects who are put on the earth to serve his needs.

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