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Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?

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Connie’s Paradigm
In Joyce Carol Oates’ short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” we follow the main character Connie as she faces an inner transformation. The author introduces Connie as a vain and inexperienced adolescent who seems to daydream about things she doesn’t quite understand as she has more of a naive idea of what adulthood is all about. She takes pleasure in having control over everyone and everything around her. These ideas as well as her security are shaken when the liminal enters the story and introduces a frightening and violent situation which seems to shatter the innocence of Connie’s world. By the end of this story Connie abandons her original persona as she is forced into adulthood and leaves behind secure controlled life that wasn’t appreciated while it was still in her grasp. By analyzing this short story we can see a young girl with a self-centered and inexperienced idea of the world whose stability and comfort are compromised by a disruptive, intense force creating a situation that ultimately gives her a very different, more realistic perspective of adulthood and of herself.
Connie’s paradigm is adolescent and self-centered. She obsesses over her image and looks down on the people around her. The reader is given this impression right at the start of the story as Oates states that “She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right.” This is a clear example of how consumed Connie is with her looks. She fixates on such things and holds them with an extreme importance which we also see when the author states “Connie would raise her eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look right through her mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything.” These examples are also a preview of how juvenile her priorities are at the start of the story which we continue to see further in. Connie holds her social life to a high standard and will uphold her social standing even if that means carrying on as two different people. Oates tells us that “Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head; her mouth, which was pale and smirking most of the time, but bright and pink on these evenings out; her laugh, which was cynical and drawling at home—"Ha, ha, very funny,"—but high-pitched and nervous anywhere else, like the jingling of the charms on her bracelet.” Connie carries herself accordingly to get what she wants. She enjoys the feeling of having control at home by lying to her mother just as much as she enjoys controlling boys with her beauty and by exuding a certain level of sexuality that you wouldn’t see at home. She enjoys flaunting her looks and womanhood in search of attention and desire from the men around her but she is naïve in wanting this and has more of a fantasy idea of romance without seeing the consequences as well as the harsher side of growing up. Her worlds as well as priorities are superficial, immature, and lacking substance. All of this is affected by the liminal, Arnold Friend, entering the story. Arnold becomes the unsettling power that alters Connie’s universe and self. Arnold is introduced as a mysterious, cocky stranger with an element of danger. He doesn’t fit the norm that Connie is used to and seems to catch her off guard with his forceful personality. While Connie tries to act unfazed by Arnold’s advances she is very unnerved by his aggression and comments. Arnold makes bold demands by saying things like "Don'tcha know it's Sunday all day? And honey, no matter who you were with last night, today you're with Arnold Friend and don't you forget it! Maybe you better step out here." This situation becomes much more real when Arnold says "Yes, I'm your lover. You don't know what that is but you will," he said. "I'm always nice at first, the first time. I'll hold you so tight you won't think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you'll know you can't. And I'll come inside you where it's all secret and you'll give in to me and you'll love me.” This moment is significant because Arnold is now introducing an adult situation that Connie has never encountered and one she doesn’t quite understand. Although Connie has a tendency to flaunt her looks and tries to appear enticing to the opposite sex, it is usually a game to her that she plays without consequence. Finally, we see the story take a violent and chilling turn as Arnold starts to threaten Connie as well as her family by saying things like "This is how it is, honey: you come out and we'll drive away, have a nice ride. But if you don't come out we're gonna wait till your people come home and then they're all going to get it." Arnold’s threats continue and Connie eventually succumbs to Arnold’s demands. The altercation with Arnold shakes Connie’s usually stable world. The major concerns in her life are shifted from trivial matters such as appearance and social gatherings to her well-being as well as her family’s safety. For Connie this is a big leap from the beginning of the story where she expressed a disregard for anyone including herself. This is shown when Oates states “Connie's mother kept picking at her until Connie wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over.” Connie’s initial value of life is dramatically increased when real danger approaches. The encounter with the liminal also alters how Connie will view sexuality and adulthood. Connie uses clothes, make-up, and flirtation with boys to try to prove her maturity and seems to want men to be sexually drawn to her but now that Arnold shows her this sexual attention in a forceful way she is frightened and loses control by being overpowered by him. She now is walking on rocky ground and we see her find her childlike side while she is under attack by Arnold and cries out for her mother. At the end when Connie follows Arnold out of the front door of her home it seems it may be due to the ongoing threats directed towards her family. A selfless act on Connie’s part seemed implausible at the start of the story yet this becomes another change in her that is brought on by the liminal.
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” shows how a teenage girl’s environment is shifted and thrown off balance by an unforeseen and uncontrollable meeting. This encounter gives the main character awareness of risk, danger, violence, and maturity that her innocence did not allow her to see. She begins with an aura of simplicity, self-regard, and conceit until a disruptive moment damages all that is familiar. After this purity is desecrated she comes out on the other end with a realization that much of her reality was an illusion and eventually grows with forced maturity, level-headedness and self-sacrifice.

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