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Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been"

1396 words - 6 pages

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been,” written by Joyce Carol Oates is an unsettling and incredibly formidable story of a young woman’s loss of innocence during a time of social change and turbulent times. The story’s protagonist is Connie, a self-absorbed, yet beautiful fifteen year old girl, who not only is at odds with her family but also the conservative values handed down by her family. She, unknowing to her parents, spends her evenings exploring her independence and individuality as well as by flirting and picking up boys at a local diner. One evening she catches the attention of a strange, creepy boy who drives a gold, dilapidated convertible. While alone at home one Sunday afternoon, this same creepy boy driving the gold convertible, along with a friend, pulls up in front of her house. She recognizes the boy from the diner and he introduces himself as Arnold Friend. Initially, the silver-tongued, charismatic stranger intrigues Connie. This intrigue quickly turns to fear as a sense of uneasiness overcomes her. As Arnold insists she go for a ride with him, Connie refuses. He becomes more insistent and sinister and ultimately threatens to harm her family if she does not come with him. The story ends as Connie gives in and agrees to go with him; her immediate fate uncertain.
First published in 1966, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” is a story inspired by a Life magazine article about Charles Schmid, a manipulative and gruesome serial killer in Tucson, Arizona, who preyed upon the innocence of young girls (Ramsland). In addition to the factual events that greatly influenced this short story, Oates was able to show the monumentally historical events that were shaping America when it was written. The story is set in middle-America during the 1960s, a time in which the winds of change could be felt simmering below the surface. Moral and social beliefs were being challenged and the youth of America, while coming of age, were rebelling against their parent’s ideals and creating their own culture. The birth of a social movement was upon the world and issues such as sexual freedom, feminism and other civil rights were hot topics during the years prior to Oates writing this story. It is these social changes and society’s interest in them that creates the foundation for the setting that breathes life into this story. Without this foundation, the coming-of-age story of Connie, not to mention American society, and her journey from the innocence of the 1950s into the bitter reality of the turbulent times of the 1960s would have been lost.
This story speaks of a young teenage woman who, amid the civil rights’ movement and sexual revolution of the 1960s, is rebelling against the conservative morals and values of the 1950s and exploring her individuality and sexuality with a sense of egotism and inexperience that eventually gets her into harm’s way. Looking back, the Civil Rights movement may have been the most emotionally charged...

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