Professor Giana Milazzo
3 October 2017
What Makes the Antagonist So Antagonizing
The concept of evil men is something that is not unknown to literature. From J.R.R. Tolkein’s Sauron, to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarity, villains have been able to frighten and delight readers for many years. But how does one make an antagonist so antagonizing? Both Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” and “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath explore this concept. Both works deal with evil men who take advantage of those around them, and the effects they have on the other characters. However, the effectiveness of the villains in these works is made that much more effective by a few details about them. In Oates’ story, the age difference and small foreshadowing provide a more sinister backdrop for Arnold Friend, while Plath’s poem uses the fact that the narrator is speaking about her father along with the effects on her life that he has had to make him seem so much more threatening. Finally, the main characters are both in positions of vulnerability, which only adds onto the situation.
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” deals with the main character, Connie, and her interaction with a man named Arnold Friend, who successfully takes her from her home. This is after, however, revealing himself to know much about her life. He is able to successfully rattle off a list of her friend’s names, and tell her that her family is away at a family barbeque. By doing this, he shows himself as more than a kidnapper, He is an obsessive stalker, telling her how he loves her and they are meant to be together. He tries to reason with her, telling her he will not enter the house, but if she grabs the phone, then their “deal” is off.
There is no doubt that he is the antagonist of the story. However, there are a few things about him that make him especially effective as a villain. The most important is the age difference. While still disturbing, it would be significantly less so if Arnold Friend and Connie were more similar in age. Connie realizes Friend’s age, as Oates writes “She could see then that he wasn't a kid, he was much older—thirty, maybe more. At this knowledge her heart began to pound faster” (Oates 595). Once Arnold Friend’s age is realized by the reader, his infatuation with Connie takes a more sinister meaning. He no longer becomes potentially a teen with his first crush, and is now an adult who is in love with a child much younger than him. Just the very concept of an adult being so taken away by a much younger girl is enough to set most people on edge.
Additionally, this is not the first time he has done this. He has studied language that people her age use, saying “Don't crawl under my fence, don't squeeze in my chipmonk hole, don't sniff my glue, suck my popsicle, keep your own greasy fingers on yourself!" (599). Friend has put in all this effort to enamor her, which makes him that much creepier....