Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates
In Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates we have the theme of conflict, independence and control. Written in 1966 and narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator, most critics would agree that the story is based on the crimes committed by Charles Schmid. What is also interesting about the story is the title. Again many critics would believe that Oates took the title from a verse in the Old Testament (Judges 19:17). Oates also provides a hint in the story which would suggest the title is taken from the bible. Arnold Friend’s car has the numbers 33, 19, 17 sprayed on the side. If the reader reads backwards, the 33rd book of the Old Testament is Judges and Chapter 19, Verse 17 reads – And when he had lifted up his eyes, he saw a wayfaring man in the street of the city: and the old man said, Whither goest thou? and whence comest thou? Though Oates has never confirmed that she took the title of the story from this verse, it would appear to be too coincidental for it not to have been taken from the Old Testament.
It is also noticeable that very early on in the story Oates explores the theme of conflict. There is the fact that Connie’s mother scolds Connie for spending so much time looking at herself in the mirror. Connie’s mother also makes comparisons between Connie and her older sister June, which Connie doesn’t seem to like. Again this may be significant as it can also suggest that there is some conflict between not only Connie and her mother but also between Connie and June. June is level headed, works as a secretary and appears to be in control of her life. This is in contrast to Connie who believes that looking attractive is the most important thing in life.
There also appears to be an internal conflict within Connie. She struggles to be independent, believing that by being attractive she will reach her goal of standing on her own two feet. Though June works hard and would seem to be going in the right direction, Connie, possibly through naivety believes that her looks will carry her through to maturity. It is also interesting that though Connie is striving to be independent, she still relies on others. This is noticeable by the fact that she is driven to and from the shopping mall by her friend’s father. Though she spends her time in the restaurant with older boys, she is still reliant on others to take her home. Symbolically this may also suggest that Connie is not yet ready to be independent, she is after all only fifteen years old.
Probably the most obvious sign of conflict is the struggle Connie encounters with Arnold Friend. Despite several attempts to get him to leave, he remains rooted at Connie’s door. Even when she threatens to call the police, he remains fixed at the door. There is also a sense of irony in Friend’s surname. In no ways, despite attempting to portray it, is he a friend of Connie’s. Also some critics suggest that Oates is symbolically linking Friend to the Devil, or to the common perception of the Devil. There is the fact that Friend finds it difficult to walk in his boots, to some this mirrors the Devil’s hooves. Also Connie when she sees Friend, notices his ‘shabby black hair that looked crazy as a wig.’ Again some critics believe that the reference to a wig would suggest the hiding of horns, again common symbolism associated with the Devil. The fact that Friend never enters Connie’s house may also be symbolic. Many critics believing that the Devil cannot enter a home unless he is invited. Many critics also believe that Arnold Friend is simply ‘An old fiend,’ (notice the two r’s removed), another name for the Devil. Friend’s suggestion that if Connie’s house was on fire, that she would run out to him, may also suggest symbolism. Fire being associated with the Devil.
There is other symbolism in the story that may be worth noting. The restaurant that Connie hangs out at, though Oates never mentions the name, there is a good chance that it may be a Big Boy restaurant. There is a ‘revolving figure of a grinning boy holding a hamburger aloft’, and Oates may be using the restaurants logo as a foreshadowing device. Later Connie will encounter an older boy (or man), in the shape of Arnold Friend at the restaurant. Oates also appears to be using music as symbolism in the story. Connie associating or linking her fantasies of what romance is, to the popular songs being played on the radio.
Whatever Friend’s intentions (rape or murder) it is clear that Connie does not have the tools to cope with him. When she first sees Friend outside her house, he is listening to the same music station as Connie. At first this connects Connie and Friend but she soon realises that he may not be all that he seems. Friend’s age is also important as for the first time in her life Connie is being confronted sexually by an adult. All Connie’s previous sexual experiences have occurred when she was in control and were with boys a year or two older than her.
At the end of the story it is the adult Friend who is in control and the reader senses there is an end of innocence for Connie. The fantasy she associated with her looks has a harsher reality, a reality that Connie is not prepared for. There may also be a sense of irony at the end of the story. Connie wanted to control her life (or be independent) however by focusing on her looks she has allowed an older man control her. As is seen when Connie walks out of the house to leave with Friend.