Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Themes

The main themes of "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" are appearance versus reality, the embodiment of evil, and self-sacrifice.

  • Appearance vs. reality: Both Connie and Arnold have two-sided natures, presenting an appealing self when necessary and withholding another. However, while Connie's public and private personas reflect the intersection of her adolescent naivety and burgeoning sexuality, Arnold Friend's stylish exterior masks a predatory interior.
  • The embodiment of evil: Arnold Friend embodies a greater source of malevolence than his initial impression suggests.
  • Self-sacrifice: Connie's growth as a character occurs through her decision to sacrifice herself for the sake of her family's safety.

Themes

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Last Updated on April 7, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1016

Appearance vs. Reality

From the start, Connie is noted for her physical beauty, and she believes that part of the source of friction between her and her mother is that her mother “hadn’t much reason any longer to look at her own face.” Connie, who knows that she is pretty, therefore feels a sort of superiority over both her mother and her “plain” sister, enjoying catching a glimpse of herself in mirrors with a nervous giggle. Connie uses her physical beauty to attract boys like Eddie, whom she meets at the drive-in. She is careful with the details of her appearance, such as carefully crossing her legs at the ankles, to present herself as fully alluring. Yet it is also noted that “everything about [Connie] had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home.” While Connie presents herself as sexually alluring in public, at home she walks in a “childlike” manner and has “pale” lips. In public, she uses her carefully crafted appearances to mismiss boys from her high school whom she feels do not meet her standards.

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It is Connie’s intentionally sensuous appearance that draws the attention of Arnold Friend, who first notices her at the restaurant. He tells her that he doesn’t like fat women but instead “like[s] them the way” Connie is. It becomes clear that Arnold also has a two-sided nature but in a different sense than Connie. When Arnold first arrives at Connie’s house, Connie believes that he is just another boy and only realizes later in the conversation that he is at least thirty, a fact he tries to camouflage with tight jeans, leather boots, and sunglasses. Arnold Friend will only admit to being eighteen. At this point Connie begins to sense that she is in real trouble. By the time Connie realizes that Arnold Friend’s “whole face [is] a mask,” her illusions about him have dissipated entirely.

Connie eventually realizes that the seductive appearance she has crafted has endangered her. As Arnold Friend’s initial—albeit odd—friendliness begins to fall away, Connie realizes that he intends to steal her away with mysterious purposes in mind. Although Connie has seen her beauty as a source of power, ultimately it is the source of her downfall in that it has drawn the “special interest” of Arnold Friend. In Arnold’s final spoken words, he calls Connie his “sweet little blue-eyed girl,” even though her eyes are actually brown, further blurring the lines of reality and appearance.

The Embodiment of Evil

At the very least, Arnold Friend is Connie’s abductor. Yet there are many clues throughout the story that Arnold Friend is something beyond human. Although Connie notes that she never shares her name with him, he already knows it. He also knows her sister’s name and that of many of her friends. But what makes Arnold Friend seem most otherworldly is his knowledge of what Connie’s family is doing at the very moment when he arrives to abduct her:

“Right now they're uh—they're drinking. Sitting around," he said vaguely, squinting as if he were staring all the way to town and over to Aunt Tillie's back yard. Then the vision seemed to get clear and he nodded energetically. "Yeah. Sitting around. There's your sister in a blue dress, huh? And high heels, the poor sad bitch—nothing like you, sweetheart! And your mother's helping some fat woman with the corn, they're cleaning the corn—husking the corn—"

Arnold Friend is certain that Connie’s father will not arrive to rescue her. As his actions grow increasingly sinister, Connie invokes the name of Christ, although it is noted that her family never “bothered with church.” It seems that Connie is compelled to juxtapose goodness against the evil which now surrounds her, but even her attempts to invoke the name of Christ “sounded forced.” Arnold Friend wobbles in his boots, wears “a mask” of make-up, and has “tarlike” lashes. As Connie threatens to call the police, Arnold Friend simply asks her, “Don’t you know who I am?” This reduces Connie to a whisper, and she immediately begins distancing herself from Arnold Friend. It seems that this is not simply a malicious man who has come for Connie but rather the embodiment of evil itself. This reinforces the idea that evil can manifest anywhere and at any time—often to the detriment of those who temporarily let their guard down.

Self-Sacrifice

At the beginning of the story, Connie is presented as a superficial adolescent girl who only cares about her looks and the attention it garners from boys her age. Yet she undergoes a dramatic character transformation through her conflict with Arnold Friend, who threatens to harm her family if she does not follow him to his car:

“You come out here nice like a lady and give me your hand, and nobody else gets hurt, I mean, your nice old bald-headed daddy and your mummy and your sister in her high heels. Because listen: why bring them in this?"

Connie almost immediately realizes that she will sacrifice herself to save her family, who will never know that she has done so. This realization reduces her to screams which ring throughout her house, and she sobs until she is soaking wet. This is the moment of Connie’s character transformation, and there is a sort of death in the acceptance; she feels that “Arnold Friend [is] stabbing her again and again with no tenderness.” When she fully accepts her fate, she rises to meet Arnold Friend and her fate. Perhaps the greatest testament to the full transformation of her character is that Arnold Friend tells her that she is “better than them because not a one of them would have done this for [her].” Connie’s self-sacrifice does not depend on anything she will receive in return. Instead, she accepts pain and suffering for a family who has not shown her great love and who perhaps would not have spared her had they been given the same choice.

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Characters