Joyce Carol Oates: Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

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Joyce Carol Oates’ story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is initially about a teen (Connie) who is going through the beginning phases of teen life, playing into the stereotype of an image-conscious teen. She is recalcitrant with her parents, sneaks off to start hanging out with boys, et cetera. About a third of the way through the story, a man that she had seen earlier at the diner shows up to take her out for a drive, and the situation goes downhill as she asks him more and more questions. This man (Arnold Friend) is somewhat inspired by serial killer Charles Schmid, but yet the story never really seems to be about him. Even when she is describing Friend, Connie seems to describe him as he pertains to her, saying things like: “He wasn't tall, only an inch or so taller than she would be if she came down to him,” and “the nose long and hawklike, sniffing as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up.” Oates herself talks about how “in subsequent drafts, the story changed its tone, its focus, its language, its title.” (Charters 898) The story now is more about how this girl, despite her trying to act as an adult when she’s out and about, is so very fragile when it comes to the manipulations by this man that so many think that they’d be immune to. It works on a few levels, as it is an interesting story in and of itself, and it also speaks volumes (and is still relevant, despite its age) about the psyche of the American teen girl.

Oates, Joyce Carol “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007.
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