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 was Connie alone when Arnold Friend visited?

Quick answer:

Connie is alone in the house when Arnold Friend visits her because she has refused to attend a family luncheon with her parents and sister. Arnold strategically times his visit to coincide with Connie’s family’s absence for the afternoon.

Expert Answers

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Fifteen-year-old Connie is alone in the house when Arnold Friend visits her because she refuses to join her family to attend lunch at a relative’s house. After getting out of bed at eleven o'clock in the morning (presumably much later than her mother, father, and older sister June), Connie

washed her hair so that it could dry all day long in the sun. Her parents and sister were going to a barbecue at an aunt’s house and Connie said no, she wasn't interested, rolling her eyes to let her mother know just what she thought of it.

She is disconnected from other members in her family. Her father barely pays any attention to her; homely June is a boring model of the “good” daughter to whom Connie is constantly negatively compared. She and her mother share an acrimonious relationship. Estranged from those closest to her, Connie feels unmoored and clings to maintaining her physical appearance for others’ approval. Self-conscious of her looks, she knowingly wields her attractiveness to capture her peers’ attention, admiration, and affection—especially with boys.

After her exasperated mother angrily tells her, “Stay home alone then,” Connie contentedly suns herself in the backyard, drying her hair and losing herself in teenage daydreams. She

dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love, the caresses of love, and her mind slipped over onto thoughts of the boy she had been with the night before and how nice he had been, how sweet it always was, not the way someone like June would suppose but sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs.

After this fleeting escape into adolescent romantic fantasy, Connie realizes the weather has grown hot and goes inside the family’s house. In her room, she continues to enjoy her comfortable solitude, listening to the radio and singing along to “hard, fast, shrieking songs.”

And Connie paid close attention herself, bathed in a glow of slow-pulsed joy that seemed to rise mysteriously out of the music itself and lay languidly about the airless little room, breathed in and breathed out with each gentle rise and fall of her chest.

Connie seems more free and happy in the company of just herself, not with her stifling family or friends to impress. Despite lying in an “airless” room, she breaths easily when focusing only on herself and not interacting with others.

Then, Arnold Friend drives up to her house; he times his arrival for after her parents and June are safely busy at barbecue. He tells Connie,

I know your parents and sister are gone somewheres and I know where and how long they’re going to be gone.

Despite Connie’s resistance to him (and her false insistence that her father will return), Arnold chillingly states,

No, your daddy is not coming and yes, you had to wash your hair and you washed it for me. It's nice and shining and all for me. I thank you sweetheart.

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