An Analysis of Joyce Carol Oates’ Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been
Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most productive writers of our time. Between 1971-95, Oates published twenty-five novels, eighteen short story compilations, three collections of novellas, five volumes of poetry, six editions of plays, eight books of essays, and countless more umcollected works (Kellman 487). As the format for her writing varies, so does her subject matter. Her creations cover a wide range of genres, but Oates' main fascination is contemporary America with its "colliding social and economic forces, its philosophical contradictions, its wayward, often violent energies" (Johnson 8). Oates' works, and somethimes even Oates herself, have been subject to responses ranging from extreme praise to harsh criticism from the literary community. Oates has won many significant literary awards and has even been nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in literature but has also received her share of bad press. Oates' work has time and time again been criticized for being too violent, too bizarre, degrading to women, and "the exact antithesis to the feminist movement" (gtd. in Wesley par. 32). I believe the opposite is true.
Oates herself has been quoted as saying that her subject matter is "today's culture," and that all she is trying to do is to bring the ills of our cuture "to a place where it can be examined" (Johnson 10). Some of her stories are purely fictional, but many stories seem to be ripped from the headlines. Zombie, a 1995 novel, is loosely based on the Jeffrey Dahmer serial killings (Seltzer 288). The highly acclaimed short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" draws its inspiration from the case of an Arizona serial killer, the "Pied Piper of Tucson" (Johnson 99). Oates' subject matter reflects the violence in society. Her writing is violent, but it has to be to reflect American culture today. Some detractors argue that there is enough violence in life; literature does not need to celebrate it. People do not like to be reminded of what disturbs them, but elimination of that violence will not occur if it is just ignored.
While many reviewers concentrate on the violence in her writings, others choose to interpret the stories in other ways. Oates' works are the focus of criticisms and interpretations that are sometimes on point and sometimes far off in left field. The aformentioned 1966 short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," has received the mainstay of criticism and misinterpretation. This is the story of Connie, a fifteen-year-old girl in the throes of adolescence, who becomes the victim of a rapist and possible murderer. The meaning behind the story has been a subject of continuing debate. Some critics have taken this story and spun it into a tragically beautiful allegory of a young girl growing up to the harsh realities of the world and not the horror of the rape and murder of an actual young woman. Oates herself has...