Connie As A Rebel in Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?"
Connie As A Rebel in Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going? - Connie As A Rebel in Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" introduction?? Where Have You Been?”
One is tempted to define a rebel as someone who is trying to bring an end to a government’s rule: the Americans who fought against the British in the American Revolution were rebels, as were the members of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. However, a rebel need not be involved in a revolutionary activity against a government. A rebel can be of either gender or of any age: from the tantrum-throwing toddler to the elderly, eccentric eighty-year-old. A rebel can be a member of a large group of people or can be a single individual. A rebel does not even have to be aware that he or she is rebelling. The notions of “rebellion” and “rebel” are a matter of perspective. In the American Revolutionary War, the British authorities viewed the American colonists as rebels, but they did not think of themselves so much as rebels, but rather as people seeking independence or freedom fighters. In simplest terms, a rebel is someone who rebels. That is, someone who refuses to do what the authorities that hold power over her tell her to do.
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In Joyce Carol Oates’ story “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” Connie does not call herself a rebel; there is no evidence that she thinks of herself as a rebel. However, Connie is a rebel. Each time she disobeys or fails to obey her mother she is rebelling. Connie’s rebellious acts are not unusual or evil. It is normal for an adolescent girl to reject her parents’ point of view. Adolescents need to establish themselves as individuals. It is only natural for Connie to do this is to butt up against her parents and anyone else who represent authority over her. Connie believes she deserves to have fun because she is “pretty and that was everything” (Oates, 1). She feels that her mother does not understand because although she “had been pretty once too, . . . but now her looks were gone and that was why she was always after Connie” (Oates, 14912). Connie’s mother scolds her about not cleaning her room like her older sister who “saved money and helped clean the house and cooked . . .”
(Oates, 2). From Connie’s point of view her mother has picked “at her until Connie wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over.” Connie believes her mother is jealous that she is no longer pretty and acts out of anger and frustration. She does not see that her mother is trying to care for her and help her avoid the dangerous activities that seem to be fun for her when in fact they are dangerous. Although Connie thinks she is an adult, by the story’s end she learns she is not. She is immature and inexperienced; being pretty does not offset these deficiencies, it exacerbates them.
Connie rebels by not cleaning her room, by thinking her mother is jealous of her looks, and by deceiving her parents by going to places other than where she tells them she is going. She leads a double life “one for home and one for anywhere that was not home . . .” (Oates, 3). One evening she and her girlfriend visit a drive-in restaurant when they are supposed to be across the highway in the mall. Connie abandons her girlfriend and lets herself get picked up by Eddie who buys her dinner and then goes “down an alley a mile or so away,” (Oates, 6). When she arrives home safely her rebellious acts have convinced reinforced her belief that that she is mature enough to make her own independent decisions.
The next day is a Sunday. Instead of attending the family barbecue at her aunt’s house, she rebels against her parents and elects to stay home. Connie indulges herself by washing her hair, sitting in the warm, caressing sun and remembering “the boy she had been with the night before and how nice he had been, how sweet it always was, . . . the way it was in the movies and promised in songs” (Oates, 8-9).
During the afternoon Connie hears a car pull into the driveway she takes no thought of doing what she surely has been told to do when strangers come to the house. Instead of going inside and locking the door, she is flattered that these “boys” are interested in her. She uses profanity, something her mother probably would not approve of, presumably to show how adult she is, and flirts with the boys. She feels comfortable because they are listening to the same radio station she has been listening to. She feels in control and mature.
Slowly Connie begins to realize that her rebellious acts and her attempts to assert herself as an adult have led her into trouble. She realizes the “boys” are not as young as she thought; in fact they are probably over thirty. She notices there is something wrong with them. There is an evil quality about them that causes her to panic. Despite her fear, Connie still does not lock the door to keep the men out of the house while telephoning the police. Instead she leaves the door unlocked and rushes to the phone but is unaccountably unable to dial the phone. She cries for her mother. She is frightened and panicky. She realizes she is “not going to see [her] mother again” (Oates, 30).
In the end the consequences of Connie’s rebellious acts have caught up with her. She is taken from her family and home by Arnold Friend who obviously has evil intentions. If she had not rebelled against her parents and deceived them so she could visit the drive-in restaurant she would never have met Arnold Friend and would not have been abducted. If she had gone to the barbecue with her family instead of staying home alone, she would never have put herself at risk. When Connie rebelled against her family she opened herself up to threats from the outside world that were beyond her ability to deal with. Connie thought she was adult enough and pretty enough that she knew best and could make her own decisions. Unfortunately, Connie is suddenly forced to learn that life “is not the way it [is] in the movies and promised in songs” (Oates, 8-9). Although it is important for individuals to learn they are not all-powerful and are sometimes vulnerable to the dangers in the world, it appears it might be too late for the lesson to be of any value to Connie. Connie’s rebellion against the loving authority of her parents has led to her being under the control of a man whose purposes are clearly sinister, dangerous, and probably deadly.
Oates, Joyce Carol. “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?”. Small Avalanches and Other Stories. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Harpertempest, 2003.