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Barn Burning" by William Faulkner and "Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?" By Joyce Carol Oates are coming of age stories that detail the lives of their adolescent protagonists. These stories reveal the strained relationships that adolescents have with their parents at the juncture of critical identity formation. Both Faulkner and Oates exhibit what Zender calls a "self-consciously ambiguous approach to motive" that creates "a pleasing sense of heightened tension, of thickness of texture, and of multiplicity of perspective" that makes their respective short stories pop and shine. It is the central external conflicts in "Where are you Going, Where Have You Been?" that help drive rich character development in these short stories. These stories show how adolescents, whose mind and identity remain malleable and not completely clarified, react to their primary role models: their parents. It is the conflict between dysfunctional adult and curious child that creates character development in "Barn Burning" and in "Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?" William Faulkner in "Barn Burning" and Joyce Carol Oates in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," both convey that loitering in the adult world comes with life-changing consequences. This idea is evident when the conflict and characters of each story are examined.
The central characters in Joyce Carol Oates' "Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?" include Connie, a curious, imaginative adolescent and her pedophiliac pursuer, Arnold Friend. Connie dreams of a world beyond the confines of her parents' house. Her conflicts with her mother form the basis of Connie's rebellion. Yet as Wegs points out, Connie is more complex than just being a rebellious teenager who gets herself into trouble after loitering too long in the world of grown-ups. Rather, Oates "reaches beyond the surface of realism to evoke the simultaneous mystery and reality of the contraditions of the human heart," (66). Connie has a budding adult heart. Her desire to grow up is contrasted sharply with the relative naivete of her sister June, and of the emotional neglect exhibited by Connie's parents. Thus, it is no small wonder that Connie's predator finds her easily. She has been left alone at home while her family barbeques without her, which is clearly a symbol of her parents viewing Connie as an outsider. Arnold Friend preys on Connie's outsider status, taking full advantage of the teen's flowering sexuality. The result is "full of puzzling and perverse longings…mixing lust and love, life and death, good and evil," (Wegs 66).
The central characters in Faulkner's "Barn Burning" include Sartoris "Sarty," Abner Snopes, and Major de Spain. As with "Where are you Going, Where Have you Been?" The central character is an adolescent. Sarty's identity is forming in direct conflict from that of his father, Snopes. Unlike Connie, Sarty does not rebel until the final scene of the narrative. However, it is clear that Sarty's loitering in the world of adults leads him to a life-changing situation that forever alters his outlook on himself, on life, and on…[continue]
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