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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
The short story “Where are you going, Where have you been?,” by Joyce Carol Oates, is a tale about a teenage girl making the journey from her known world into something she has never experienced before. The main character lives the normal teenage life listening to the latest music and going out with her friends to the mall. “They must have been familiar sights, walking around the shopping plaza in their shorts and flat ballerina slippers that always scuffed the sidewalk” (753). One night with her friends changes her life forever. Someone that notices her at the restaurant would eventually become the person that makes her leave everything she knows and enter a world she has never seen before as “she watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were back safe somewhere in the other doorway” (764). Connie, the main character, is the typical 15 year-old; she listens to music, lies out in the sun, goes to the mall with her friends, and has disputes with her mother, who continually criticizes her: “Connie would raise her eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look right through her mother” (752). Connie knew she was pretty, and that’s why she had a “giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right” (752). Her beauty brought power over boys. She chose to talk to only the ones that she thought were cute or popular, and she made a point of ignoring the more common ones. “It was just a boy from high school they didn't like. It made them feel good to be able to ignore him” (753). The narrator observes that the world she lived in was a familiar one. Everything was safe, but one single day made her it all change. Arnold Friend is a personification of the dangerous aspects of the unknown world. Many things about him are foreign to her, yet he also is able to portray some things that are “safe” to her like “the way he was dressed, which was the way all of them dressed” (757). He says that he is only 18 but Connie “could see then that he wasn't a kid, he was much older—thirty, maybe more” (758). Arnold talked “in a rapid, meaningless voice, as if he were running through all the expressions he'd learned but was no longer sure which of them was in style” (762), attempting to act her age. It seemed as if the more that he talked, the more convincing he became, eventually getting her to come with him. Towards the end of the story, Arnold Friend proves to be irresistible and to her and she gives in. “She put out her hand against the screen. She watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were back safe somewhere in the other doorway…” (764). At this moment, it was like she was in a trance. She didn’t have control over herself, and the way he “opened his arms for her, his elbows pointing in toward each other and his wrists limp, to show that this was an embarrassed embrace and a little mocking, he didn't want to make her self-conscious” (764) made her feel as if everything was safe. The theme to this story is a very important one. It shows that even the people who seem the strongest and most in control of their surroundings can have weaknesses. I believe she had a weakness of wanting to have the “I’m wanted” feeling. I had that once in my life, and this story is almost like it was written about me. I once felt as if no one cared and I just wanted to feel loved. That feeling made me drawn to the first person who acted as if they cared, but really it was just that, an act. I was lucky enough to get away from that person, but only by default. I have since learned that you should get to know the surroundings you will be in before you jump. I guess that could be summarized up as “Look before you leap.”