Contextual Research: Where are you going? Where have you been?
Inspired by a true story she has read on Life Magazine, Joyce Carol Oates, wrote Where are you going? Where have you been? a story about a man, who pretends to be a teenager and seduces and kills teenage girls in Tucson, Arizona, during the sixties. This short story first made it to print in 1966 through a journal, and then in 1970 as part of The Wheel of Love, a collection of short stories by the author. Other than the true events that inspired the creation of this short story, Joyce Carol Oates was also able to show notable historical events that were happening when it was written.
The world was starting to pay attention to the issue of women’s rights when Joyce Carol Oates was first starting out her career in writing up until after Where are you going? Where have you been? was written. The 60’s and 70’s saw the stead rise of the women’s movement. Economic changes prompted women to work on jobs outside their homes and into workplaces not usually attributed to women. The Equal Rights amendment was also approved by the Congress after a long process of passing it, which produced a lot of debates. The unwritten roles of men and women in the society were practically being rewritten. It was made illegal to pay different salaries to men and women who produce the same amount of work, through the Equal Pay Act that was passed in 1963. Abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy was also legalized under women’s rights.
The relationship between men and women has always been a topic in literature way before Oates’ time. During the 60’s however, more and more authors were writing about the plight of women against a universally patriarchal society. Joyce Carol Oates is one of the writers that focused on the psychological and cultural means that promotes conflict between the sexes. Most readers see the theme of feminism in Where are you going? Where have you been? The author tackles the issue of the psychology of women on their physical beauty. Oates was also able to show in the story how men can abuse this psyche of women, shown by Arnold Friend’s psychological grip over Connie, she was rendered powerless against him.
A Transforming American Society
Remarkable changes in the culture of the United States added context to Where are you going? Where have you been? Oates is known for her vivid depiction of the social setting in her stories. This story is no exemption, by just using an average length short story, Oates was able to show issues prevalent in the US during the 60’s, specifically among the youth. Among these issues were the erratic growth of suburban America, loss of community bond, changes in family relationships, which can be seen in the story through Connie’s easy going mother and her father that does not talk to them. Others are a more open-minded view on sexuality and the effects of music to the youth popular culture.
The Youth Subculture
The American dream that the older generation during that time was not as appealing to the younger generation, it was either too big of a dream or it was simply not what they wanted. The sudden increase in the youth population after the First World War changed the United States, the new generation became activist and were not shy of letting the government know how they feel about certain political and societal issues. The country was divided during the Vietnam War; the youth does not want America to be part of it, while the older generation thought otherwise. The 60’s saw the peak of this anti-war movement. During the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, hundreds of protestors gathered and most of them were beaten by anti-riot police. One of the most popular gatherings in the Nation’s capital was during the 1969 anti-war demonstration, an estimated 250,000 people protested against the war. In 1970 four students were killed by the National Guard during a rally in Kent State University in Ohio, causing colleges to declare an early spring break.
All these anti-war demonstrations and the ideas behind these movements influenced the music scene. Drugs and sex suddenly became cool. Music festivals like Woodstock became a venue for the youth to gather by the thousands to promote peace and love by “turning on, turning in, and dropping out.” The author’s reference to popular music in Where are you going? Where have you been is much debated by critics, or at least those who try to decipher it. Despite the critics’ mixed interpretations, many readers noticed that the music that characters were listening to in the story were popular before the story was written. Connie’s dream of a possible romance somewhat blinds her from the evil intentions of Arnold Friend, and Arnold’s lines were taken from songs. Based on these reasons, critics say that Oates supports the change from music that disregard the truth to music that speaks the truth. This is shown by the author’s dedication to Bob Dylan, who brought political awareness in his music.
Joyce Carol Oates wrote Where are you going? Where have you been? at a time after being inspired by a real life account. With a true to life story as her basis, she was able to show, in great detail what it was like during the time when the story was written. She was able to show the rise of the women’s movement, the social changes happening, especially in suburban America, and the influence the youth did during the 60’s and early 70’s.
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (Historical Context).” Notes on Short Stories.
Answers Corporation, 2006. Answers.com 25 Sep. 2008.