Joyce Carol Oates’s short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” narrates the story of a teenage girl, Connie, who is depicted as being young and fun-seeking. This story cautions us of the inherent danger to children that strangers pose, a lesson that many parents strive to inculcate their children with through cautionary fairytales emphasizing the mantra - Don’t Talk to Strangers! Connie, Oates’s protagonist is naive and portrayed as a girl who is exploring her independence. Connie encounters an evil villain, Arnold Friend, reminiscent of villains in such stories as “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Little Riding Hood” and “The Three Little Pigs”. While the overriding theme in this story is “coming of age”, the underlying message and setting parallel the framework of the aforementioned fairytales. This essay identifies and discusses the similarities between Oates’ short story with the themes, characters, and events of the identified fairy tales.
In the fairy-tale, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, we can draw comparisons with Oates’ story when a stranger lures the town’s children from the safe confines of their homes with his flute and kills them by locking them in a cave. This stranger is likened to Arnold Friend who speaks to Connie “in a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting the words to a song” (510). In both Oates’s story and the fairytale children are lured to their doom by beautiful music which is masking evil behind its hypnotic allure. The approach of telling a precautionary tale is often used to teach personal safety skills and encourage children to obey the rules parents set. A strong unifying message highlighting youth falling prey to a compellingly evil force is evident in both, the short story and the fairy tale examples.
We again see the possibility of danger or death conveyed in the story of “Hansel and Gretel” wherein unwanted children are lured by sweets laid by a wicked witch nearly to their death. This portrayal of being tricked with something enticing toward the possibility of danger or death occurs in Oates’ story when Connie is seduced by the prospect of romance. In the end the lure in both stories is a disguise for the evil which promises a violent end. Hansel and his sister Gretel face adversity and are at the brink of being eaten by a witch who has fed Hansel just to fatten him when they escape. Connie also faces difficulty but is doomed due to her inability to detach from Arthur Friend even when she senses that he is feeding her a line in order to lure her into his evil scheme. In the short stories disturbing ending the force of evil claims Connie and she leaves with Friend seemingly to her violent demise.
Equally as thought provoking is the shared theme of the children being unwanted by their parents. Connie's mother pushes her to the point that she “wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over” (505). Connie believes that her parents prefer her...