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Where Are You Going, Where Have Been?
Joyce Carol Oates's short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" was first published in the literary journal Epoch in 1966. The story is about beginnings and the rites of passage. This work is an illustration of a coming of age story, also known as an initiation story. In such stories, the protagonist undergoes an important rite of passage, transformation, an experience of transition, usually from childhood to adulthood, or from innocence to experience. The story focuses on that turning point, that trial, or the passage from one state to the other.
The story is about a fifteen-year-old girl named Connie, a pretty girl who is in the middle of a rebellious adolescence. She alienates herself from her family, preferring to spend her time with her friends at the local restaurant looking for boys. She enjoys the popular music of the day and tries to appear older and sophisticated beyond her years when away from her home. "Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head; her mouth, which was pale and smirking most of the time, but bright and pink on these evenings out; her laugh, which was cynical and drawling at home -- "Ha, ha, very funny," -- but high pitched and nervous anywhere else, like the jingling of the charms on her bracelet" (Oates, p. 36).
One evening, while riding in a car with a boy named Eddie, Connie notices another boy with shaggy black hair in a gold convertible looking at her. "Gonna get you, baby," (Oates, p.37) he foreshadows. On a Sunday, while her parents are at a picnic at her aunt's house that Connie refused to attend, the boy in the gold convertible drives to her house. He introduces himself as Arnold Friend.
Despite her reservations, Arnold eventually persuades Connie to leave her house and go with him. "Now come out through the kitchen to me, honey, and let's see a smile, try it, you're a brave, sweet little girl…" (Oates p. 53).
Connie's leaving the house is described as an almost out of body experience, "She watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were back safe somewhere in the other doorway, watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited" (Oates p.54). Though we never find out exactly who or what Arnold is, he is the catalyst that changes Connie from a child to an adult.
Connie has two personalities in this story, one for home and one for anywhere that is not home. This represents the two sides of human nature, good and evil. When she's with her friends, she lets her hair down. She is not guarded in her actions like when she with her mom, who frequently criticizes her and calls her lazy.
Connie is at a crossroads. She has yet to settle in a self that she is comfortable with. She is vulnerable and Arnold Friend is representative of evil, temptation, and sin. He allied with the dark forces.
Connie's rebellion from her family and her desire to enhance her sexuality are part of her search for independence. As a teenager, she is dependent on the adults in her life for care and discipline as well as for enabling her social life. Her friend's father, for example, drives her and her friend to the movie theater.
Though Connie rejects her family, particularly her mother and sister, they are the only life she really knows. Her experiments with creating a sexy appearance and enticing boys in the local diner serve as her attempt to explore new worlds as well as a new side of herself. Until Arnold Friend comes into her life, Connie's investigations into the world of adulthood have always been without risk. She may go into an alley with a boy for a few hours, but no matter what happens there, she will eventually be driven back home to the familiarity of her family.
Arnold's arrival signifies the end of her innocence. He interacts with her as the mature woman she has pretended to be and forces her out of her childhood fantasies and smack into the world of adulthood for which there is no safety net. Arnold tells her, "I'm your lover. You don't know what that is but you will" (Oates p. 47) and "The place where you came from ain't there anymore, and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out" (Oates p. 52).
It is ironic that as Connie is coming to the realization and acceptance that her childhood is at an end "she cried out for her mother" who she had rejected so thoroughly. Furthermore, she laments, "I'm not going to see my mother again" and grieves, "I'm not going to sleep in my bed again" (Oates p. 52). Connie's comprehension of the outcome of her search for independence is both heartbreaking and brutal.
The last page of the story shows Connie's coming of age happening before the reader's very eyes. Connie splits into two persons, one the childhood Connie, watches the other the grown woman, depart with Arnold Friend.
At the start of the story it is evident that Connie is eager to become an adult. She frequently tests the limits by pretending to be shopping or watching a movie with June and her friend when all the while she was out meeting boys. She "sometimes they went across the highway, ducking fast across the busy road, to a drive-in restaurant where older kids hung out" (Oates, p.36). This shows Connie's desires to engage in adult acts and behaviors.
At the end of the story Connie stands behind the screen door struggling with whether to go with Arnold or not. She is in actuality standing in a threshold of adulthood. The anxiety she feels as she is about to leave the house and be with Arnold is symbolic of the feelings of anxieties one faces as one transitions from adolescence to adulthood. Her struggle with this decision to represents not only a physical but also a spiritual conflict. Connie is aware that the innocent stage of her life will be over once she steps out of the screen door and into Arnold's grasp.
Connie's loss of innocence is reflective of the changes that were occurring in American society during the 1960s. The story was written at a time when the innocence of America was giving way to the more hard-edged, troublesome, turbulent, violent and unpredictable times. The decade of the 1960s began as a continuation of the 1950s, a time where many of the realities of daily life were either swept under the rug or ignored completely. The assassination of President Kennedy, the advent of the civil rights movement, the escalation of the war in Vietnam and the resultant anti-war movement as well as the normalization of the drug culture, sexual liberation and revolutionary politics changed the country's perception of itself (Marsden, p. 65). The story is dedicated to Bob Dylan, one of many whose music proclaimed and celebrated the changes in American life and culture which were about to occur.
Music for the sound track to Joyce Carol Oates' short story 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" would have to be exclusively the music of Bob Dylan. Music of the 1960's served as the voice of that generation, and Dylan was instrumental in announcing, prophesying, and ushering in the changes in perspective that helped to create a generation which questioned everything, including authority, corporations, the government, and other aspects of…[continue]
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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
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