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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Analyze the character of Connie in Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

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Fifteen-year-old Connie is a stereotypical teenage girl: rebellious, superficial, and vain, she often lies to her mother about where she's going and where she's been. She enjoys hanging out with her friends at the mall or at a local drive-in restaurant, where she catches the eye of "Arnold Friend," an older man almost certainly using an assumed name. Arnold frightens Connie, causing her to call out for her mother. In these final moments, it becomes clear how much Connie actually loves her family. She sacrifices herself so that they won't get hurt. Even though Connie is a superficial character, she does make a noble gesture at the end of the story.

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In this story, Connie transforms from a girl who seeks to validate her own superficial ideas to one who is willing to sacrifice herself for her family.

As the story opens, Connie bases her self-worth on her looks: "She knew she was pretty and that was everything." She endures comments from her mother, convinced that the scorn she receives is because her mother has lost her own good looks and thus feels the need to belittle Connie's. Connie is deceptive in order to obtain what she desires—some unchaperoned time with boys. She acts as part of a collective, making decisions with the group of girls who sneak circumvent their parents' rules with her:

One night in midsummer they ran across, breathless with daring, and right away someone leaned out a car window and invited them over, but it was just a boy from high school they didn't like. It made them feel good to be able to ignore him.

They didn't like the boy and thus they ignore him. Connie seems incapable of independent thought.

This changes when Arnold Friend appears at Connie's house. At first, she is simply dismissive, not even seeing him as a threat, which is true to her character thus far. In fact, her first thought as the car comes up the drive is "how bad she looked." As Arnold emerges from the car and engages Connie in conversation, she is true to her initial character:

Connie blushed a little, because the glasses made it impossible for her to see just what this boy was looking at. She couldn't decide if she liked him or if he was just a jerk, and so she dawdled in the doorway and wouldn't come down or go back inside.

Eventually, Connie realizes that she has made a mistake and that Arnold actually poses a danger to her. She asks him to leave and threatens to call the police, and Arnold then vows that he will take revenge on her family if she does:

But if you don't come out we're gonna wait till your people come home and then they're all going to get it.

Arnold Friend seems to know everything about Connie and everything about everyone she knows. She thus begins to believe his words and slowly realizes that she must sacrifice herself in order to save her family. This is an independent act that the Connie early in the story could not have fathomed. As she leaves with him, Arnold assures her:

You're better than them because not a one of them would have done this for you.

Thus, Connie proves a dynamic character who in the end values the lives of her family more than her own and leaves with Arnold Friend to meet a certain and violent death—and her family will likely never know of her sacrifice. Connie's final act is independently selfless, a sharp contrast to her shallow beginnings in the story.

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The tools of that a writer uses for characterization include description, what the character says and does—which can contain discrepancies—and what others say about the character. Here are examples of each to assist in a character analysis of Connie.

Description: Connie "was fifteen" and had "a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors." It is fair to say that she is immature and in the self-absorbed throes of adolescent girlhood. She is entering a personality phase some call boy crazy and spends weeks of her summer vacation "thinking, dreaming about the boys she met." The narrator offers that "everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home" to suggest the typical duplicity that comes with teen rebellion.

What the character says/does with discrepancies: Connie sometimes thinks to herself that she wishes both she and her mother were dead "and it was all over." She tells her friends "She makes me want to throw up sometimes." However, when Arnold Friend has her cornered, Connie "cried for her mother" and thought "I'm not going to see my mother again," two clear indications that she does love and need her mother.

The character who probably knows Connie best is her mother; what she says about Connie is that she is vain, she tells her "stop gawking at yourself." Her exasperation with Connie is clear on the day of the barbecue when she tells her "stay home alone then" when Connie rolls her eyes at the prospect of a family gathering.

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In Joyce Carol Oates story, Connie is, at first, a stereotypical teenage girl, superficial, self-centered, vain, and deceitful.  As she makes the transition from girlhood to womanhood, she detours into her "trashy daydreams" and her duality of nature:

She wore a pulover jersey blouse that looked one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home.  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 bobing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head....

The music that "made everything so good" is always in the background of Connie's head, as she feels it is like the music at a church service, "something to depend upon."

Finally, however, Connie's trashy daydreams and music materialize in the shape of Arnold Friend, who drives up to her house where she is alone, having refused to accompany her family to a barbeque at her aunt's.  In a vehicle suggestive of the "magic whirling ship" of Bob Dylan's song, "Mr. Tambourine Man," Connie finds herself reflected in the "tiny metallic world" of Arnold's sunglasses.  Without the rs in his name, the man who is older than he at first appears is An old   Fiend, the embodiment of her trashy daydreams to extreme.  Faced with the psychological horror dealt her by Arnold, Connie shakes herself from her hedonism and becomes, as Oates herself states in an article, capable of "a heroic gesture":  She sacrifices herself and gets into Friend's car so that her family will be unharmed upon their return home.  As she rides away, Connie faces the existential question of the story's title, perhaps in a new order:  "where have you been, where are you going?"

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What is a character analysis of Connie from the short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates?

In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by author Joyce Carol Oates, Connie is the main character, a fifteen-year-old girl leading a relatively normal life. Connie appears superficial towards the beginning of the narrative, focused on many of the trivial problems that are associated with youth, from vanity to her infatuation with boys. Connie begins the narrative as a selfish and rebellious teenager who thinks little of the consequences of her actions on those around her, such as her family. She has a strong romantic side and is in love with the idea of love, even if she does not exhibit the emotional maturity required for a successful relationship.

Connie is often shown to be careless of the feelings of others, especially the boys who have demonstrated an interest in her. Once a boy makes it known that he likes her, she admits losing interest in him. Connie's friend, Arnold, puts these weaknesses to use in his attempt to manipulate her and gain control of her emotions. Arnold plays on Connie's superficiality, pulling her deeper into his world of lies, threats and menace through her own naivete. Arnold is able to exploit Connie's desire to be seen as attractive and to fit in, but he ultimately serves as the reason for her character's development. When Arnold threatens Connie's family, she goes along with his plans in order to protect them, demonstrating self-sacrificial characteristics she does not initially seem capable of.

Connie is a two-dimensional character on the surface, consumed with vain pursuits and concerns, but as the plot of “Where Are you Going, Where Have You Been?” deepens, so does her character. In summary, Connie is really a multi-dimensional character capable of alternating selfishness and selflessness, when the occasion calls for it.

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Describe Connie's character traits in Joyce Carol Oates' short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Joyce Carol Oates' short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is a frequently anthologized story that has stirred controversy since its publication.

In this disturbing story, based on the actions of serial killer Charles "Smitty" Schmid, the author focuses first on Connie, a fifteen-year old girl who struggles because she is a kid who wants to be an adult. 

Connie is described as an adolescent girl who...

...sleepwalks through life listening to music only she seems to hear.

She is constantly in search of who she is. She had...

…a quick nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right.

We can understand Connie's confusion over whether she is acceptable in observing her mother's response to Connie's behavior:

Stop gawking at yourself, who are you? You think you're so pretty?

However, in this case Connie does not worry so much about what her mother says about her looks because...

…knew she was pretty and that was everything.

The reader realizes that her mother is not supportive (or perhaps is not even aware) of Connie's search for self-awareness. Her mother is also critical that Connie is not more like her sister, constantly comparing the two. 

Connie's concern with her appearance is not the only thing we learn about the youngster. Using indirect characterization, the reader is able to gain insight into the kinds of things Connie does and what she thinks. While her sister June is praised for all the things she does, "Connie couldn't do a thing." Her mother's perception is that Connie is of no help around the house, and "her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams."

She is described as having...

…a high, breathless, amused voice which made everything she said sound a little forced, whether it was sincere or not.

In this we can infer that she is not always sincere in what she says. She likes to hang out with her friends at the mall, where they "lean together to whisper and laugh secretly if someone passed by who amused or interested them." In this behavior, we see that Connie is a typical young teenager. She also has a way of acting when she is out that is nothing like the person she is when she is at home.

She had a pullover jersey blouse that looked one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home. Everything about her had two sides to it...

The narrator represents Connie a young woman with chameleon-like capabilities. At home she dresses and speaks differently than when she is out. She is smirky and cynical at home. When she is out, she is a different person.

While all of this may not be unusual, it is sneaky. And it makes one wonder who Connie really is in that she is so adept at wearing different personalities depending upon where she is.

When Connie and her friend run across the highway to the hamburger place, they are described as "breathless with daring," which indicates that they should not be there. It is where the older boys hang out. Connie and her friend are not simply interested in boys. They are looking for the right kind of boys. On this particular night they are called over to a car by a boy at school that they don't like, so they simply ignore him and this makes them feel good. Obviously this experience fills them with a sense of being wanted and having the power to refuse the attention. Connie hangs out with a guy named Eddie for a couple of hours, meeting her girlfriend back at the mall just in time to get a ride home from her friend's father. When she gets home and is asked about the movie she was supposed to see, she lies as if she had been there.

Connie is young, but wants to be older. She believes that one's outward appearance is of paramount importance. She is sneaky, lies to her mother and dismisses people she does not like. However, there is an innocence to her, as seen in her thrill at being alive and her strong emotional response to music. When Arnold Friend and his buddy show up, she is smart enough to be scared. We can postulate that she may be shallow and self-absorbed, but she is also harmless and unfamiliar with the dangerous world of which she so wants to be a part.

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