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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Why is Connie's sister June in the story and how does her character highlight Connie's?

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The story continually iterates Connie's sense of herself as being "different" or somehow exceptional in her own mind, even though most readers will recognize her as being a fairly normal teenage girl. Having June as a sort of foil or point of comparison to Connie is important to establish Connie's sense of her place in the family structure; just as Connie compares herself to her friends or other girls in her school. Connie's sense of self is wrapped up in her burgeoning awareness of her own sexuality and her sexual attractiveness to boys and men. Because she knows she is attractive, and that she is an object of desire, her identity depends a great deal on conventional standards of beauty. June is characterized as being rather dull and unattractive, compared to Connie, described as "plain and chunky and steady." June still lives at home, works at the high school, and, according to Connie's mother, saves her money, as opposed to Connie who "couldn't do a thing" and whose head was "filled with trashy daydreams." Connie's priorities revolve around her social life and gaining access to situations where she can attract boys, and she feels some disdain for her sister who seems to have no interest in dating. Since Connie's mother praises June for being responsible and reliable, it is suggested she thinks her daughter Connie is the opposite: lazy and dishonest. The story relates Connie's mother's words as if through Connie's eyes and we therefore see her mother's description of June colored by Connie's sense of annoyance at being constantly compared to her sister.

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June represents everything Connie despises. June is responsible; Connie is careless. Connie notices the dishes that were left in the sink and thinks that maybe she was supposed to wash them. June would have washed them without giving it a thought. June wears a dress and high heels to a barbeque and socializes with her parents and relatives. Connie dresses to attract boys at the local hangout spot. June serves "as the standard to which Connie's own behavior is always compared and found wanting. Connie believes she is better than her sister because she is more beautiful."

I don't think Oates meant to say that Connie's behavior and manner of dress caused what happened to her. Connie is just a typical teenager, and the differences between her and June show just how typical Connie is. What ends up happening to her could happen to any girl.

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