The main character in “Where are you going? Where have you been?” is named Connie and she is your typical teenage girl with the same personality flaws. She is self involved, indulgent, rude, and constantly fighting with her mother. She is, like most teens, anxious to be an adult and move on with her life. Unfortunately, Connie does grow up to fast in one Joyce Carol Oates most beloved short stories. Connie’s, like most tragic heroes, fatal flaw is that she wants to be an adult so bad she overlooks the dangers, embodied by the character Arnold Friend, which surround her. Oates describes Connie has having to faces- “One for home, and one for anywhere that was not home” (7). The freedom from her parental walls allows her to shift from a young innocent girl to a woman looking for experience. She pretends to be the woman she wants to be and hangs with the “big kids”. This intense need to be an adult allows her to be blinded to the real life evils which exist in the world. However, Arnold Friend is her personal escort into this world of adulthood.
In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Oates’ creates the character of Arnold Friend to be the antagonist. Joyce M. Wegs, in The Grotesque in Oates, asserts that “Arnold is far more than a grotesque portrait of a psychopathic killer masquerading as a teenager; he also has all the traditional sinister traits of that arch-deceiver and source of grotesque terror, the devil. As is usual with not only that his identity is faked but also hint as his real self.” Arnold Friend is not a sweet seducer who plays with the emotions of young women. He is the physical embodiment of evil and exhibits the the traditional characteristics of Satan.
Arnold friend is a mysterious strangers that appears to Connie out of the blue. He aggressively pursues her and his actions border on stalking. It is through this relationship that Connie finally realizes that she has made a mistake, giving up her childhood for the the cruel experiences of womanhood before her time. In the end Connie decides that she wants to be a child again and that maturity will come in time. She seeks out her family and represses her want to be an adult. The terror of this short story comes not in the general plot but in the physical characteristics and actions of Arnold Friend. Oates focuses on the primal elements of fear and evil, giving Arnold the mask of young seducer who is in reality the devil. Oates offers many clues about his real identity throughout the story. However, Connie is unable, unlike the reader, to see the clues and overlooks them completely.
A major clue that Arnold Friend is not who he says he is comes in the form of his physical appearance. Oates writes about his malformed feet throughout the novel. Arnold often is clumsy as if his feet do not fit into his boots. He must hold on to things around him to support himself. Without this support he would fall over because he is unable to stand in his boots unassisted. His feet are always described as turning inward as if his boots are too big for his feet. Satan is almost always depicted in paintings and literature as having hooved feet. Satan’s legs are like that have a horse and face of human male. This depiction of Satan is very similar to Oates description of Arnold.
Similarly, Oates creates a sense of evil about Arnold by describing the light or lack of light which seems to exist near him. She says that Arnold is light skinned. She explains that his eyes are “holes that are not in shadow but instead in light” (8). That Arnold seems to be empty on the inside – nothing more then an animal. To disguise this devilish feature, Arnold is always wearing shades. Therefore, Connie is unable to make eye contact with him and he has the ability to look anywhere he wants without being detected.
Arnold is very good at seducing Connie. He utilizes one of the oldest tricks in the book. Like Satan in the Bible, Arnold offers Connie the one thing he knows Connie can not resist – a fast ride. Her teenage desires win out and she is enticed by what he has to offer. This is similar to the apple in the biblical stories of Adam and Eve. The car is shiny, hot, and totally cool. It sparkles and is one of the first things that Connie notices. Oates describes Connie’s lust for his car. She adores everything about it its slickness, its color, and its shine. However, soon Connie’s interest starts to fade. With constant pressure from this unknown stranger Connie tries to move away from Arnold’s advances. She refused his invites to take a ride in the car. While Connie does not understand why, part of her deep down knows that Arnold is trouble. This is both alluring and scary – just the temptations offered by the devil.
Additionally, Arnold is dressed like the devil Oates explains “tight faded jeans stuffed into black, scuffed boots” (10). His body is toned and muscular in his white turtleneck shirt. Like the devil, Arnold’s upper body is massive and his torso is thin. Like some of the music idols of the time, Arnold is like a music legend. Again and again, music is used to symbolize the power that the devil seems to have over Connie. As Arnold tries to convince Connie to go for a drive, and she considers and eventually agrees, the music on his radio becomes louder and louder. It blocks out the rest of the world, and only Arnold and Connie exist. Music plays a similar role in ancient texts. The song of a beautiful woman has often been used to entice men away from the righteous path, toward more wicked ways.
Arnold Friend like Satan is constantly in pursuit of a new victim. Feeding on the fear and temptation of the victim. Both know how to tempt an innocent girl into doing things she shouldn’t. Arnold claims to have known her adult, unpopular sister. He asserts “There’s your sister in a blue dress, huh? And high heels, the poor sad bitch—nothing like you, sweetheart!” (11). Arnold creates this illusion so Connie, disliking her nerdy sister, feels so adored that she can not resist Arnold.
While Arnold’s true identity is not revealed yet, it becomes clear in the last paragraphs of the story. Arnold wants Connie to go for a ride and demands that she accept. “Thus the extraordinary violence of their assault on the girl is an attempt to destroy the trace of their “real relations” of powerlessness that her weakness makes present even during the very enactment of ideological power.”(Wesley 75). He moves closer and closer to her but is unable to nab her physically. This is because she remains inside the house while he, the devil, must remain outside of the house. Even when she runs to the phone, Arnold is unable to control her. The devil is never able to cross a threshold uninvited. Therefore he must remain on the outside of house until he is invited in. Therein, lies the paradox of the devil’s temptation. Arnold never does any harm to Connie that she does allow herself to experience – what happens to her is her own fault, and Arnold, like the devil, takes no responsibility for it.
Arnold Friend, as Wegs points out, is the embodiment of Satan. He takes the body of smooth talking, attractive young man who only has eyes for Connie. The mystery which surrounds Arnold creates the mood, drives the plot, and develops the theme within this short story. Connie adventure is timeless tale of the battle between good and evil. It is the story of how the evil in the world often corrupts and destroys the innocence that exists in the hearts and minds of young people. Connie must suffer Eve’s fate. Like Eve with the apple, Connie’s ride with Arnold shifted her world and gave Connie what she thought she longed for, a maturity that came far too early.