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Security and Self-Esteem in “Where Are You Going Where Have You Been”

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    The natural progression of parent-child relationships goes awry for Connie and Joy Hulga in the stories “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates and “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor, as both authors portray how the relationship between parent and child can lead to a fragile self-esteem and eventual self-destructing behaviors. Done in extremes, two sets of parents offer parental support from polar ends, but these paths eventually leave the main character to be victimized by men. They offer what appears to be a shield over their daughters, but a combination of restrictions and curiosity makes both Connie and Joy Hulga targets for seduction and manipulation.

    Oates and O’Connor both use the idea of illusion and reality to develop character traits. In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Connie is described as a young pretentious teenager. She is self-absorbed in her own appearances, and thought of herself as not only mature, but superior in beauty. Her mother blatantly challenges her and asks, “Stop gawking at yourself, who are you? You think you’re so pretty?” in order to provide a small reality check for Connie (Oates 205). Connie’s mother most likely had an underlying reason for her harsh words toward her. An underlying jealousy of Connie’s young and fresh beauty is reminiscent of her own when she was younger. She was trying to teach Connie that modesty is the best policy. Although Connie may have had good looks, they won’t last forever, but a humble character will. Done with good intention, Connie’s mother passive-aggressively teaches Connie to be more like the older sibling, June. Modest and hardworking, the mother wants Connie to emulate June, in hopes that she will build better character and stray away from a shallow and vain persona. It is evident that Connie is clouded with illusions that are “trashy” according to her mother. She feels a sense of belonging with her friends, and that she is desired by the boys who approach her, a feeling she doesn’t get from her mother who speaks highly of June, but poorly of her. Connie displays her insecurity by hiding certain things, like her outfit, from her mother. This indicates that she cannot be honest with her mother, or trust that she can be a guide in her social life; the mother acts as an obstacle that Connie must lie and sneak around. The lack of trust between mother and daughter causes her mother to be accusative and suspicious, driving Connie even further away.

    The battered relationship between parent and child is a direct cause of Connie’s insecurities. In the story, it states “Their father was away at work most of the time and when he came home he wanted supper and he read the newspaper at supper and after supper he went to bed. He didn’t bother talking to them much…” showing that Connie did not have a paternal figure (Oates 205). The lack of proper parenting made her feel she was doing everything on her own and that she was experienced enough to take the world at large. But she lacked the protection and knowledge that her father should have but did not provide her. Her lack of protection is shown in her last moments of desperation when she seeks comfort and refuge in the arms of her attacker, Arnold. Her sense of trust and security in her family is easily erased, as Arnold coaxes her with promises of love and comfort. His gentle but firm threats put her in a state of a helpless trance, and her low self-esteem is overtaken by his seductive confidence.

    Similarly, in “Good Country People”, Joy is misled because she is a fully-grown woman, who lacked the proper road to maturity. She changes her name to Hulga; an ugly name to match herself described “ugly” and unfriendly looks. This change represents a change in identity, for her to mature into a woman and not the child that her mother, Mrs. Hopewell, sees. Hulga takes great pride in her intellectual abilities and she uses it to justify her lack of looks and personality. She is in her early thirties with a ph. D in philosophy yet living under her mother’s roof. In the story, it states, “Joy was her daughter, a large blonde girl who had an artificial leg. Mrs. Hopewell thought of her as a child though she was thirty-two years old and highly educated” (O’Connor 352). She proves to be gullible and naïve when she encounters the Bible salesman because she is once again easily seduced by him.

    Mrs. Hopewell, unlike Connie’s mother from Oates’s short story, is perhaps an overbearing mother. Because her mother admits to still seeing her as a child after thirty so years, it leaves Hulga denying that she is well into adulthood. Mrs. Hopewell’s overwhelming protection enables Hulga to remain as so, not exploring the bounds of womanly sexuality or social conduct. Using Hulga’s hunting accident as another excuse to preserve her youth, Mrs. Hopewell feels inclined to protect her from the obstacles and responsibilities, otherwise known as adulthood. Hulga shows no intention of facing reality, stomping around her house like a rebellious teen, slamming doors, and calling her mother spiteful names. Dressed in old sweatshirts and disheveled skirts, her attire becomes a clear-cut reflection of her state of mind.

    The Bible salesman arrives at her door and introduces himself as Manley Pointer. He was invited to dinner, where he takes a keen interest in Hulga. Hulga plans out her night, imagining she is in control because of her superior education. During their date, they climbed into a barn loft where he manipulates her into taking off her glasses and wooden

    leg, which he retains for his own personal victory. He leaves Hulga without her prosthetic leg as she realizes he is not “good country people” as he made her mother believe. Connor shows the difference between educations, because although Hulga is educated, she lacks in street smarts and common sense. Filling a void, Hulga’s Ph. D. in philosophy represents her desire to gain some knowledge and explanation about things. It is a fair desire because her naivety and her curiosity are evident at the overwhelming emotions she feels when she is alone with Pointer for the first time. She is overtaken by excitement, probably her first taste of womanhood at the age of thirty. Hulga’s self-assigned low self-worth leaves her feeling ugly and unfriendly, with only several degrees to “protect” herself from the harm. She is a heavy follower of philosophy and atheism, and skeptical about a lot of people. Pointer comes and does something she is not prepared for; he compliments her. He makes her feel special by complimenting her prosthetic leg and telling her that he loved her the minute he saw her. But Hulga’s persistent belief in “nothing” indicates that she doesn’t put her trust anywhere. She doesn’t trust religion or people including her mother. She shuts out a lot of people, but Pointer draws her out, an easy task given her low self-esteem. He ultimately makes her feel like a woman and she is pleased with the electricity and peaks of pleasure that she feels with him.

    Hulga’s decision reflects her relationship with her mother. The story states, “Nothing is perfect… in a tone of gently insistence, as if no one held them but her, and large hulking Joy, whose constant outrage had obliterated every expression from her face, would stare just a little to the side of her, her eyes ice blue, with the look of someone who had achieved blindness by an act of will and means to keep it.” (O’Connor). This quote shows how her mother did not really pressure her to move into the real world, get a job, and gain knowledge. She sympathized for her daughter, when in fact the right thing to do was merely to live life as if she was not disabled. Mrs. Hopewell shelters her, keeping her away from all life has to offer. Protection is a mother’s second nature, which could have been lacking from Mrs. Hopewell’s’ life. In attempts to provide for her daughter, the overbearing protection is her making sure that she does not fall short for Hulga, like her mother did for her. In both stories the mothers are trying to fix their lives through their daughter lives.

    In both short stories, Carol and O’Connor effectively use characters and plot to discuss central themes of self-image and parent childhood relationship. The correlation between their own ideas of self worth and encounters with their parents are vividly shown throughout these stories. Both Connie and Hulga are victimized are targeted for their low self-worth which stems from their relationships with their parents. While both characters eventually suffer the same fate, their arrivals are much different. Connie stems from a lack of security and a constant passive aggressive reminder that she was too vain, and not as good as her older sister June. She desperately craves attention, seeking it from the way she dresses and the attention of boys. During her encounter with Arnold, he uses her deepest insecurity and easily gain her trust by telling her that he was going to provide everything she was looking for. He lets her know that he will be the love and approval that she always wanted, something that her mother and father did not provide.

    Hulga, however, comes from an over-sheltered home. Mrs. Hopewell keeps the reigns on Hulga and although she is a grown 32- year-old woman, she has not nearly had the experience of one. Her curiosity is overtaking her, and it is evident in her several high-level degrees in philosophy. Hulga seeks knowledge and wisdom as her way of entering maturity. She is so easily seduced by Manly Pointer because she experiences intimate emotions for the first time in her life.

    Manley Pointer is a collector of aid-related objects. He forces Hulga into a stage of vulnerability to which she removes her foot, representing her crutch both mentally and physically. He deceives her and takes the object she feels most dependent on. She seeks comfort and support from Pointer as he leaves her virtually helpless. Both Oates and Flannery use parenting to lead up to the actions of both Connie and Hulga. Although both parenting techniques are different, they both lead to an endangered child due to lack of proper judgment.

    The relationship of parent and child is a delicate balance of support and positive attention. It plays a large role in the development of individuals, as the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Both authors, Flannery and Oates, focused on the bonding between parent and child and its effects on Connie and Hulga’s self-esteem. The two main characters are identified as targets due to their lack of self-worth, and it is evident that a good self-worth and sense of security is essential for appropriate growth. The cases of parental misjudgment lead to tragic self-destructive events of both main female characters; a typical female feeling perhaps but enhanced by family insecurities. Both cases showed different parenting styles, but due to curiosity and rebellion, both main

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