Where Are You Going


Where Are You Going? Essay, Research Paper

American Fantasy

Joyce Carol Oates Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? represents the stark realities of real life invading the American Dream. Connie, the victim, lives the ideal life of a rebellious teen. She cruises the town, goes on dates, and listens to music that many adults find offensive. Connie s world is perfect, until the evil Arnold Friend pulls up in her driveway on a lonely Sunday afternoon.

The events leading up to Connie s abduction play an important role in creating the meaning of Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? In the beginning of the story, Connie s mother says, Stop gawking at yourself, who are you? You think you re so pretty? Connie response was to raise her eyebrows at these familiar complaints and look right through her mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything (Oates, 163). Joyce Carol Oates uses this scene to imply that in Connie s mind, she sees herself as beautiful, and this implies Connie s innocence in a dangerous world.

In Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? , Oates strongest asset is her ability to manipulate realistic elements to provide insight into the characters personalities (Friedman, 10). Connie and her friends frequently made a three-mile drive to a nearby shopping plaza. On these trips they snuck off to be with older boys, and changed their appearances from that of young girls to promiscuous young ladies. Oates analysis is that 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 bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head (163). Connie is attempting to overcome her plain life by living an alternate life on the weekends. Joyce Carol Oates characters frequently fall short of their dreams, mainly because their dreams are unobtainable. Connie s dream of the American rock-star does not exist, and sadly Arnold Friend uses her innocence to his advantage (Friedman, 12).

Arnold Friend represents life rather than the devil, in that he is friendly yet evil and is good-looking but a fake (Friedman, 12). Connie s fixation with music and the American rock-star image make her vulnerable to Arnold s chant-like words. The best example is when Arnold says, We ll go out to a nice field, out in the country here where it smells so nice and it s sunny. I ll have my arms around you so you won t need to try to get away and I ll show you what love is like, what it does (Oates, 173). Connie dreamily wants a guy who embodies the image of a rock-star, but her dreams are shattered by the reality of evil in the form of Arnold Friend.

By dissecting Connie and Arnold s desires, it becomes quite obvious their views are in sharp contrast to one another. Connie and her family are like many Americans who believe that nothing bad can ever happen to them, and the crime and hate they see on the news every night is just entertainment and a topic of conversation (Quirk). Arnold Friend sees Connie in the way most serial killers see their victims: as sustenance needed to make it through every day.

Connie s parents are in pursuit of the American Dream; live well, work hard, and nothing can ever go wrong. Oates emphasizes their dream throughout the story, with the most important example being the continuous praise awarded to Connie s sister because she saved money and helped clean the house and cooked (163). The ranch house they live in also is the focus of the dream, for owning property is one of the principles that Americans first fought for in order to be independent. Arnold Friend, who represents life, also incorporates the American Dream into his character. He wants to take Connie out in the country here, where it smells so nice and it s sunny (Oates, 173). This oddly reflects the dictum that we should return to the land at our deaths (Quirk).

After a first reading of Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? , most readers think Arnold Friend represents a devilish figure that happens to take advantage of a young girl s innocence. Upon closer examination it becomes quite obvious Arnold Friend represents more than just a single person s fantasy; he represents the ever-present worldly temptations that humans face.

Joyce Carol Oates uses Arnold Friend as a wake-up call to an American society that has traditionally preferred its dreams and promises over recognizing the reality of the evils that plagues humans in general. She makes it clear that being blind to these evils does not make us immune to them, and that in blindness there is danger. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? represents the broken American Dream, where dreams don t come true and no one can be quite sure where the next turn of events might take them.

Works Cited

Friedman, Ellen G. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980.

Oates, Joyce Carol. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Angles of Vision.

Eds. Biddle, Arthur W. and Toby Tulwiler. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992.


Quirk, Tom. A Source for Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

http://www.smcccd.cc.ca.us/smcccd/faculty/fannin/english110/quirk1.htm (23 Oct 2000).

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