“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ” is a short story written in 1966 by Joyce Carol Oates. The story takes place in a time where people are exploring their sexuality even though it is still considered to be wrong. Oates tells the story of Connie, a young girl who struggles between her desire to become a women and her desire to do what is right. The unfortunate result of her conflicting desires force Connie to make a choice between herself and her family.
Connie’s ultimate selfless act transforms her into the women she longs to become.
The story begins by giving the reader a glance at Connie’s personality. Connie is a normal fifteen year old girl whose major concern is how she looks and how others see her. Connie’s mother is constantly telling her to “’Stop gawking at yourself, who are you? You think you’re so pretty? ’”(623). Like other teenagers Connie is in constant conflict with her mother and sometimes wishes her mother dead.
Throughout the story Connie continues to view her mother as plain and not beautiful like her. Oates then gives a description of Connie’s family.
Her mother constantly compares Connie to her older sister June. Unlike Connie, June can do no wrong in her parent’s eyes. Their father is barely around and doesn’t give them much attention. As one reads about Connie’s family they come to understand her and why she is desperate to escape her ordinary life. The way Connie escapes her family is to go out with her friends. When out with her friends Connie feels she can be her true self. The two sides to Connie become evident by the way she dresses and laughs differently when out with her friends than she does when with her family.
When she does go out she tries to be a woman that boys like. On one of her excursions she meets a boy named Eddie. He offers her a way to escape reality and have fun. While out with him, she draws the attention of a boy who says, “’Gonna get you, baby,’” as he makes a strange gesture in the air (624). While this makes her feel uneasy, she can’t help looking at him. Connie does not realize the trouble that is in store for her. One warm summer Sunday, Connie is out relaxing and resting in the sun while her family is at a picnic. When she wakes she turns on the music to ease the boredom.
She is startled by a car driving up the driveway; she knows it is not her family. Her first reaction is to check her appearance, just like a typical teenage girl. The strange vehicle honks four times, as if it is calling for her. She opens the front door, but does not go outside. Connie sees two boys in the car, and recognizes the driver as the boy she saw when out driving with Eddie. The boy talks to her, pays her compliments, and asks her “’You wanna go for a ride? ’” (626). She is a little nervous and is unsure whether “she liked him or if he was just a jerk” (627).
She is still intrigued by him and not yet concerned about this boy who finally introduces himself as Arnold Friend. Connie’s interest begins to turn to an uneasy feeling as she realizes that Arnold is not so much a boy, but a man. He continues to insist that she takes a ride with him and his buddy Ellie. She starts to question him to find out how he knows her name and so much about her. He plays it off as if he has known her for a long time. He reminds her of the sign he made in the air when they exchanged glances; the sign was an “X” (629). She again questions Arnold and asks how old he is.
He continues to try to make her believe that he is her age. This just builds Connie’s feelings of fear and uncertainty. She now makes it clear to Arnold and Ellie that they should leave because her family will be home soon. Arnold tells her he will not leave until she says yes. He tells Connie if she doesn’t go with him he will bring harm to her whole family. Connie runs into the house to use the phone, but is unable to because she is frozen with fear. The suspense builds as Arnold tells her to hang up the phone and again insists for her to come with him.
He tells her if she does not go for a “nice drive” with him, when her family comes home they are “going to get it” (632). Connie is now faced with the most important decision she will ever have to make. Her fear has turned into a feeling of emptiness as she is coming to grips with the decision she must make. Connie makes her way out the door and down toward Arnold. She feels as if her life is not her own and nothing seems as it once did. Oates ends the story with Connie in a field, leaving much to the reader’s imagination about Connie’s unfortunate end.
In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ” Connie takes a journey down a long dark road. In her battle to become a woman she unknowingly puts herself in the path of a predator named Arnold Friend. He brings pain and emptiness into her heart and causes her to sacrifice herself in return for her family. She makes a decision that most women would find difficult. The reader must imagine what happens to Connie as the story draws to an end. The selfish teenage girl becomes a real woman with her selfless act of sacrifice.
Oates, Joyce Carol. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. 8th ed. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford-St. Martin’s, 1999. 623-635. Print. Weeks Jr., Lewis E. “Hemingway Hills:nSymbolism in ‘Hills Like White Elephants’.” Studies in
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