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Is “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” A Tragedy? Essay, Research Paper

When “Where Are You Going, Where have you been?” was written in 1966, it was interpreted many different ways. Many feminist and women?s rights groups saw the story as an symbol of violence against women. Others believed it was a demonstration of “pure realism” and the “grotesque.” Joyce Carol Oates has never substantiated or refuted any of these claims, her only comment on the story being that Bob Dylan?s song, “It?s All Over Now, Baby Blue” was on her mind while writing it. No matter what view one takes on the purpose of the story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” has never been argued as a tragedy. Although it does seem almost tragic at the end, when Connie sacrifices herself for her family, the story is no tragedy. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” lacks all of the elements Aristotle considered necessary to be qualified as a tragedy, hamartia, catharsis, and the fall of a high person.

The fall of a high person qualifies such stories as “Hamlet” for it is the Prince of Denmark that declines throughout the play and dies at the end, Paradise Lost is not only about the fall of man, but about the destruction of Lucifer, who was the Archangel of light, just about as high as you get. But Connie?s fall in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is hardly the fall of a high person. Connie is a 15-year-old girl who lives on the outskirts of a not so big town. Her mother does nothing but criticize her Connie and compare her to her sister June, who is plain, chunky, and a secretary. Connie?s father doesn?t even take the time to ask Connie what she does every night in town. Perhaps if Connie represented some quality or virtue, such as innocence or honesty, it could be argued that she was a “high person.” Connie is vain, always “glanc[ing] in mirrors or checking other people?s faces to make sure her own was all right.” She wishes her own would die to end the constant nagging. The only exhibit of any virtue in Connie comes at the end of the story. When Connie finally goes outside to Arnold Friend he tells that her family “don?t know one thing about you and never did honey, you?re better than them because not a one of them would have done this for you,” implying that her leaving with the devil is saving the rest of her family, a sacrifice no one else in her family would make for her. But this last sacrifice does not lift Connie up and giver her an elevated status in life. She is still a 15-year-old girl from a small town that nobody looks up to, keeping her corruption at the end of the story from being the fall of a high person.

Hamartia is represented when the tragic hero falls through his or her own error or flaw. This is seen in Shakespeare?s “Othello.” The title characters pride and mistrust lead to Othello?s downfall and suicide. Connie does not fall through any fault of her own. In the beginning of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Connie wishes “she herself was dead and it was all over.” This leaves room for Arnold Friend to enter the picture and grant Connie?s wish and take her away from her family and life. Connie is convinced, after Arnold Friend?s false promises, attempted smooth talking and eventual threats to go him. When Connie finally does walk out of her house and into the arms of Arnold Friend, it is of her own will. She is taking the steps through her kitchen and it is her hand the opens the door to let her outside, not a character flaw that tricks her into giving in to Arnold Friend. Connie?s fall is a conscious decision, error as it may turn out to be.

In “Poetics” Aristotle argues that catharsis allows “a healthy release or purifying of emotion.” The tragic catharsis is achieved through the emotions of pity and fear, which are stirred in the audience by the tragedy of a protagonist who suffers unjustly. It may be said that Connie did not deserve to be taken away by the devil at the end of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” but does that make the story a tragedy? Pity and fear and to be inspired in the reader by the suffering of someone who is morally typical, not overwhelmingly good or evil, but susceptible to error. These ideas do give some argument to Connie as a tragic figure. While most of society doesn?t consider it moral for a 15-year-old girl to have hang out late at night and have sex, as Connie does, this could be said to be one of her errors. However, Connie is also vain, untruthful, and has wished her mother and herself dead, those are hardly characteristics of a “hero,” tragic or not. At the end of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” the reader has a sense of relief. Yes, Connie left her house and was taken in by the devil, but perhaps her fall was a good thing. Connie may not have deserved to be corrupted, but in doing so she saved her family from the same fate. This noble gesture may make Connie a hero, but it reduces the pity the reader feels towards her. Her fall is seen as a sacrifice and almost a victory. Even though some readers sill feel a certain amount of pity for Connie, her fall is not seen as a tragedy.

The fall of Connie in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is indeed a sad moment in the story, but according to Aristotle, it is no tragedy. Connie?s characteristics keep her from being a “high person” at the time of her fall. Her fall is not one of her own doing because she is convinced by Arnold Friend to leave her house and go with him. This decision by Connie is puts her in a better light for the audience as the end of the story. She has sacrificed herself to save her family, so there is no feeling of pity for Connie as the story ends. Many people may think that any death or corruption is tragic. This may be true in their own convictions, but “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” fits no definition of a tragedy.

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