Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, By Joyce Carol Oates

1671 words - 7 pages

Woven into the twisted short story by Joyce Carol Oates “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” stands a figure of demonic proportions; a man whose mere presence develops into an ominous fear, bringing with him a thickness of anxiety and an eerie sense of premature death. While her parents are away on a Sunday afternoon, Connie is approached by a strange man named Arnold Friend who is determined to seduce her and steal her away. Rather than use force, Arnold Friend insinuates his way into Connie’s mind and subdues her vulnerable and emerging sexuality. In the end, Oates indicates that he leads her to her death, whether spiritual or physical, and that his love is empty, but she is powerless against him. Within this novella lies a battle of wits between a young girl and a demonic man who is the metaphorical illusion of a fate – the fate of isolation and death.
The sense of dread is explored through the extensively symbolic use of a third person, past tense narration. The omniscient style of writing reflects irrevocable doom and that Connie, the protagonist, faces her inevitable fate. This destiny is the launch point from which Oates begins to unravel her insidious tale of a young girl who is too naïve to fully comprehend the dangers that lurk within this world.
Connie is revealed to be immature and vain from the beginning. She has a “quick nervous giggling habit” of craning her neck to glance into mirrors and checking other people's faces to see if her own face is fine (Oates 584). She is illustrated as having a two-sided personality. She smirks and laughs “a cynical and drawling laugh” at home, but she is high-pitched and nervous everywhere else, and speaks in a “high, breathless, amused voice” that has people doubt her sincerity (Oates 584 – 85). The young girl is flirtatious and sweet around boys, but she is hostile and unrelenting towards her mother and sister. Her mother often scolds her, and Connie reckons she is jealous, because her mother had once been pretty. Her sister, June, is the complete opposite. June is "plain and chunky and steady" and constantly praised for her efforts, while Connie's mind is filled with "trashy daydreams” (Oates 584 – 85). Connie’s outward negative relationship and actions with her mother and sister provide suspense later in the story as she must decide between sacrificing herself to save her family or save herself at the risk of her family.
While Connie is alone at home on a Sunday afternoon, Arnold Friend drives out of nowhere. The numbers 33, 19, 17 are emblazoned on his car along with the phrases “MAN THE FLYING SAUCER,” “DONE BY CRAZY WOMAN DRIVER,” and “ARNOLD FRIEND” (Oates 588-89). The numbers 33, 19, 17 could refer to passages in Judges and Genesis. As the thirty-third book from the end of the Old Testament, Judges 19:17, which reads, “When he raised his eyes he got to see the man, the traveler, in the public square of the city. So the old man said: ‘Where are you going, and where do you come...

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