Joyce Oates story, “Where are you going, Where have you been” has had a number of interpretations over the years. Sadly, this story is largely based off of a gruesome reality. It is a sick, twisted world, where one’s appearance and one’s being is enough to draw the attention of someone with ill intentions. Connie, a beautiful youthful child, was intriguing enough that her vision sparked the interest of a demented man who stopped at nothing to fulfill his ill desires. He took the time to figure how he could get to her, and when. Connie in her own sense was looking for acceptance in all the wrong places.
Connie, a seemingly displaced fifteen year old, fighting to find her spot in the world, while constantly being brought to a depressing reality by her family. She was reminded frequently that she was subpar in comparison with her sister, who she viewed as frumpy and socially backwards. “Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you’re so pretty?” (Oates 208) Connie’s mother constantly reminding her that she is not everything that she is imaging she is. Not adequate in school, not adequate in her chore or housework, not adequate to her older sister in any way. Her mother was once beautiful; she just let herself go; now she is happy with being plain. And seemly feels better by bringing Connie down as well. It is a common character of modern day society where a teenager is forced to be sneaky and secretive. The void of a common ground or a close bond with their families does not necessarily mean they are destine to be killed by a psychotic individual. Connie simply ended up at the wrong place at the wrong time, drawing what she didn’t realize was unwanted attention. Sneaking from the movies where she was supposed to be, over to the restaurant did not set her up to be brutally murdered. Had Arnold noticed her at the mall, or the movies, or anywhere else, the events would have played out the same. Connie’s voided bond with her family may have put her in the situation to enjoy the attention that Friend had brought at first, but it did not captivate her enough to get in the car.
Greg Johnson interprets the story as a “feminist allegory”. At the end of his analysis he suggests that, “young women are ‘going’ exactly where their mothers and grandmothers have already ‘been’: into sexual bondage at the hands of a male ‘friend’.” (Johnson 102) This was shown with the complements that Arnold gave, and how it seems to intrigue her and kept her playfully attentive until he took them to another level. She was, in a way, denied by her family, the beauty internally and externally that she born with. Joyce wrote the story in a way that one could see Connie’s indecisiveness in whether to take a ride with the guys. The compliments and attention was almost enough to lure Connie into the vehicle. She noticed the age difference pretty quickly, yet still toyed around with Arnold in a hard-to-get type of banter. The playful denying her accompanying them only seems to become real when Arnold divulged his sexually explicit plans to her. At which point Connie stopped being playful and threatened to call the police.
Arnold was in many ways portrayed as a teenage girls dream. An older guy who had his own car, and was fascinated enough to find out details about Connie. However, Joyce Wegs interprets Arnold as Satan. “The distortions in his appearance and behavior suggest not only that his identity is faked but also hint at his real self….” (Wegs 70) This interpretation becomes true when Connie notices he has a mask on. The makeup stopped half way down his neck, showing a clear picture to Connie that he may not be who he is pretending to be. His boots were stuffed with something in efforts to appear taller. And Connie continued to ask him who he was; she had never met him before. His feelings seemed to be hurt by her lack of acknowledgement. Perhaps Connie had met him before, at the dinner or passing at the mall, but failed to recognize him due to his disguise. Who Arnold was may have been disguised, but he spoke freely with his plans. His intentions were very inappropriate and he can be viewed as Satan by many readers.
This story could be based on the reality of hundreds of teenagers. Joyce may have fictionalized many aspects of the details, but this could have been the headlines in papers for many real tragedies. Connie was looking for attention, for acceptance and found it someplace she did not really want it from. Arnold wanted what he wanted, and her telling him no was not going to stop him. He even threatened to kill her family, if they were to come home before she got in the car. Arnold told Connie exactly what was going to happen. He could have forced her to go much earlier, but he wanted her to choose to get into the car. The only time he physically involved himself was when she tried to call the cops. It was almost as if Connie choosing to get in the car was consent for whatever Arnold wanted to do. In the end, regardless of the interpretation of what caused it to happen, Connie lost her life.
Oates, Joyce Carol. “Where are you Going? Where Have you Been?” Literature and the Writing Process. 9th Edition. 208-219. Print
Johnson, Greg. Understanding Joyce Carol Oates, 1987: 101-02. Print
Wegs, Joyce. Journal of Narrative Techniques. 5 (1975): 69-70. Print