Oates' Story Where Are You Going Where Essay

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Oates' story, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? is one that has sparked the interest of numerous commentators who have read a multiplicity of views into the plot and characters? Some have seen the story as cautionary tale to teenagers. Others have read Jungian or Freudian archetypes into the story, whilst others have packed it with psychological insight. Certainly, Oates has skillfully used her background, motifs and other elements of fiction (such s point-of-view, foreshadowing, irony, and symbolism) to paint us a tale that shows a multiplicity of meaning. The element of music that winds through the tale is one of them. The following essay develops some of these implications

Most readers see the story serving as cautionary tale to adolescents. Connie is a naive restless teenager at the beginning of the story, typically, as most teens are, preoccupied with her appearance, and feeling frustrated with her life.

In her soporific, sheltered existence, she wishes that she and her mother were dead (she hates the nagging) and attempts to model her friends as much as people.

Connie's life sounds like the life of any contemporary American teenager obsessed with shopping and having a good time. She sounds like a quintessential middle-class American whose father is absorbed in making a business, whose mother is absorbed, possibly in homemaking or making a business too and Connie tries to fit in.

She dreams and chats of boyfriends as all her friends do and as all teems do, reinforced by the books they read, movies and TV programs that they watch, and simply their state of life absorbs herself in innocent sexual fantasies where she meets the perfect idealized stranger who loves her.

Life being mundane and boring, Connie exults in the pathetic rebellion of sneaking across the highway to a drive-in restaurant to meet boys. This again, is normal of most teens.

Connie's life, however, ends up being tragic for her escapades with Eddie make her encounter a molester who has all the trappings of being a rapist.

Up until that moment, Connie was a child of fifteen.

From the moment that she begins to observe Arnold, the man in the gold convertible, more closely and her impressions concretize, the story proceeds in an ominous slow pace, and we become more mature as Connie matures along with us.

At first Connie tries to play him up. This is her flirting adolescent streak. When she realizes that both he and Ellie, his accomplice, are far older than they attempt to be, Connie begins to fear, and her fear transforms her. She realizes that they are deceiving her and her fears intensify when the man provides her with accurate descriptions of what her parents are doing at that moment at the barbeque.

When Arnold pursues her and threatens to harm her family implying (it seems) that he was responsible for the death of a neighbor -- this is the moment when Connie is no longer the teen who wished for her and her mother's death. Rather, she has matured within the space of a few moments and, no longer autonomous or belligerent, relinquishes herself to Arnold's possession. The story itself by telling us that Connie thinks to herself that she will never see her mother again implies that Connie is no longer the thoughtless young teenager that we started the story with. Rather, Connie has matured years ahead of her age and may be possibly walking towards her death. We see that this is so from the final sentence:

"the vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him -- so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it." (http://www.usfca.edu/jco/whereareyougoing/)

The vast expense of land may represent the infinity of death and that, Connie knows, is her destination.


Other critics, however, see it as far more than a cautionary tale, reading into it Jungian or Freudian implications or other psychological innuendoes. Those who have supplied it with Jungian overtones see the story as replete with archetypes with the god myth coming to take the youth and with the youth having to surrender to the god (Quirk, 82).

Freudian analysts see it, as Marie Urbanski does, that Connie is leaving with Arnold because she is bowing to forces that she cannot control (78). Connie cannot resist Arnold's seduction and this, in turn, creates psychological conflict in Connie's mind that blurs her thinking and deters her from thinking rationally.

Another critic gives the story a different psychological interpretation that to me does not sound right and seems to contradict the story's narrative. Tom Quirk believes that Connie is readily following Arnold in an attempt to flee the "American dream" that bores her and in an attempt to investigate the seeming seductiveness of life (88).

Kukowski (online) translates it as love that Connie was seeking. Connie was uncomfortable at home. She is vindictive to her mother and bored. Her father is non-communicative to her. Her mother seems to prefer June to her. Connie is slightly insecure of herself and her mother would often fret Connie with remonstrance such as:

Why don't you keep your room clean like your sister? How've you got your hair fixed -- what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don't see your sister using that junk." (http://www.usfca.edu/jco/whereareyougoing/)

Now here was a friend -- and note, Oates uses that as his last name ("Friend") -- who praises Connie and says that he loves her, wants her, and adores her looks.

According to Kukowski, therefore, the story is psychological in that it shows the adverse affects that can occur to a love-starve developmental childhood. All children need attachment from parents. When starved of that, they cling to myths of loving, affectionate relationships and seek it from life.

When Friend entered her life, things changed because he was persuasive, knowledgeable about the world around them, and was aware of the fact she badly wanted someone to love her. She had experienced the images of love and sounds of romance through watching movies and listening to music for quite a while, and despite her age, she was certain she knew how to handle the choices Friend was making available to her. ." (http://www.usfca.edu/jco/whereareyougoing/)

Friend was the one who supplied her with the love that she lacked. Unfortunately, it seems as thoguh it was the wrong kind of love.


Connie's transformation is foreshadowed and dogged by the symbolism of music. Music comes up at various times in the story and it seems to follow the development of Connie's maturity. We have it first in the restaurant where Connie comes alive to the sound of music. It overwhelms her. The music then was like her childhood at that stage:

It made everything so good: the music was always in the background, like music at a church service; it was something to depend upon. ." (http://www.usfca.edu/jco/whereareyougoing/)

Her life was sheltered too. It was innocent and good, "like music at a church service." Her home and friends, however much they irked her, was something she could depend on.

Music appears later in the car when Connie realizes that Arnold must be deceiving her:

He spoke in a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting the words to a song. His smile assured her that everything was fine. In the car Ellie turned up the volume on his radio and did not bother to look around at them (http://www.usfca.edu/jco/whereareyougoing/)

The motif of music seems to be appearing at key periods of Connie's transformation, as though it were signaling her transition away from something innocent to something more ominous and insecure. There is also the singsong way that Arnold talks and the fact that Ellie constantly listening to music. Finally,…[continue]

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