‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ is a short fiction story written by Joyce Carol Oates about a young girl who is self-absorbed, and boy obsessed who reaches a breaking point and cannot save herself. This young girl, Connie, isolates herself from family and gets deeply involved with a boy named Arnold Friend. Arnold slowly becomes familiar with Connie and her everyday life by watching Connie inside her home intently. Arnold begins to make moves that cause Connie to feel trapped in her own body, slipping control of herself and falling into a dissociative state. Joyce Carol Oates has a background of deep, dark stories. She was inspired by a Life magazine story about an older man who preyed on young girls. This story by Oates was deeply mind-boggling because instead of putting the focus mainly on the antagonist, Arnold, the attention was drawn to Connie and her typical suburban life. Connie’s takes on fantasy and reality become blurred throughout the story. Her fantasies and her reality fade into a very confusing and perturbing experience. Oates’ portrayal of the fantasy and reality of Connie’s life relies mainly on her use of three tools: figurative language, imagery, setting, and theme. A brief analysis of these three basic tools will unveil the depth of ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ Oates uses a figurative language to compare Connie’s laughter at home versus everywhere else. ‘..her laugh, which was cynical and drawling at home—’ha ha, very funny,’ — but high pitched and nervous anywhere else, like the ringing of the charms on her bracelet.’
In this example, Oates uses a simile to express the comparison of her laugh. When her laugh is compared to the ringing of charms on a bracelet, it gives the readers a sense of youth and femininity. Connie’s laugh at home is more of a masculine laugh, described as sarcastic and dull. From this, it shows the readers Connie’s multiple personalities. Throughout the story, Connie develops two images of herself. These two personas are when she’s with family and when she’s with her friends or exploring her womanhood, especially with boys. Another example of Oates use of figurative language is when she compares Arnold to an animal, a hawk specifically. ‘and his face was a familiar face, somehow: the jaw and chin and cheeks slightly darkened because he hadn’t shaved for a day or two, and the nose long and hawklike, sniffing as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up and it was all a joke.’ (6) Since a hawk is a bird of prey, it’s implied that Arnold would like to have Connie as a snack. When Oates uses the word, ‘sniffing,’ it gives us an impression similar to an animal. As the story goes on, Connie begins to see his predatory nature yet doesn’t do anything about it. Connie lives in a world where she knows men like to take advantage of women, therefore, she does not see much of it. Although Arnold has a violent and aggressive vibe, Connie thinks of it as normal. In the story, Connie’s home is compared to a cardboard box. ‘this place you are now— inside your daddy’s house— is nothing but a cardboard box I can knock down any time.’ (13) Connie is threatened by Arnold as he says that her home will no longer protect her. In this story, Connie’s house represents family and heritage. As Arnold threatens her, he continues to say that he will destroy her home and memories. This flimsy cardboard box represents how unreliable and unpredictable her life is becoming. Oates uses imagery to portray Connie’s daydreams. Connie is a young teenage girl who is having sexual desires. She is captivated by the idea of love, not tied down to a specific person. The authors use of imagery helps give the audience a better understanding of Connie’s thoughts and experiences. ‘but all the boys fell back and dissolved into a single face that was not even a face but an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent, insistent pounding of the music and the humid night air of July.’
Oates uses the phrases, ‘humid night air’ and ‘insistent pounding’ to reference something significant. Since young teen girls have hormones, her wants and desires take over and she loses control over herself and she’s not completely aware of her behavior. Oates uses this tool to describe Arnold’s appearance to the readers. ‘she recognized most things about him, the tight jeans that showed his thighs and buttocks and the greasy leather boots and the tight shirt, and even that slippery friendly smile of his, that sleepy dreamy smile all the boys used to get across ideas they didn’t want to put into words.’ (8)
She uses the words, ‘buttocks’ and ‘thighs’ to present his physical appearance and his sexual nature. She uses the word, ‘tight’ to describe the clothing on his body. When Oates uses the words, ‘slippery’ and ‘friendly’ to accent Arnold’s smile, it gives the readers a concrete vision of Arnold’s grin. Right after, Oates uses ‘sleepy’ and ‘dreamy’ to describe the smiles of all the boys. The adjectives the author utilizes in both descriptions begin with, ‘sl’. This gives the readers more of an insight into the other adjectives that can describe Arnold. These adjectives include sleazy, slick, sleek, and slyness. All of these can describe Arnold’s smile, sexual wants, appearance and much more. Oates’s choice in words play a huge role in this story to give the readers a better vision of Arnold and his character. Another example of the use of imagery in this story is the description of Connie’s body and heart. ‘she thought for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that wasn’t really her either.’ (14) She describes Connie’s heart as something alive inside of her, but not truly a part of her. She describes her heart as a ‘pounding, living thing’. When Oates compares Connie’s heart to a ‘thing’, it shows the readers that her heart is just a commodity and object inside of her, nothing of meaning. Oates presents this imagery to show the readers her dissociative state. When one is in a dissociative state, they are disconnected from themselves with a lack of pleasure, discontinuity between memories, thoughts, and identity. Connie is losing control over herself which causes her body to meet Arnold outside. This story portrays a setting that is very similar to a typical American suburb today but has that 50s and 60s pop culture charm added. For example, Arnold Friend’s style resembles popular icons such as Elvis Presley and James Dean with tight clothing and slick hair. Another example is Ellie, Arnold’s friend has a hand-held transistor radio in which he listens to the radio on. These hand-held transistors were first marketed in the mid-50s. As well as the drive-in restaurants, movie theaters, malls, and ‘ranch’ style homes give that 50s and 60s charm. This is a popular time where teenagers isolated themselves from their parents, had more disposable income, more time and money for leisure activities and conformity.
Connie, being a 15 year old in this period, there is no doubt she’s a part of the culture and is influenced by it all. Oates decided to have most of the story take place at Connie’s home rather than public areas like the drive-in or shopping mall. When Oates chose this, it gives the reader a suspenseful feeling and gets them thinking of their home safety and security. A home is a place where you should be able to feel safe and happy, a place to live, laugh, and learn. As the story goes on, Connie becomes more and more unsafe in her own home because of Arnold. This setting is important to this story because it gives the readers a creepy, stomach-turning feeling and shows how real this can be. Connie spends a lot of her time out with her friends at places such as the local shopping mall and burger place. When Connie and her friends are out on the town, they listen to music and flirt with the boys that are around. Her surroundings can influence her decisions and actions. Things like peer pressure or the desire for popularity can play a role within Connie’s panic. Throughout the story, Connie’s life spirals downwards in a sense where she has trouble differing between fantasy and reality. The development of Connie’s two personas, the vague yearning for love, and the scary realizations Connie have all tie in to create a disturbing dissociation within herself. Connie’s typical suburban teen life was flipped upside down when Arnold arrived. Connie’s body, decisions, and actions are no longer under her control.