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

By bignerds Jun 28, 2008 1504 Words
Every person experiences changes in his life. Some of these changes are small such as the passing from one grade to another in school. Other changes are more dramatic, such as the transition from childhood to adulthood. In Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" the author goes into depth of the transition from being a carefree, innocent child to the complexity and uncertainty of the future when one becomes an adult. The message begins even before the story itself actually does. The title illustrates the passage of time in life such as the phrase "where are you going" refers to the question of what direction does one have for his own life. "Where have you been?" is a question which involves reflection on one's own life as to what his childhood was like. In the short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?", two separate scenarios, or worlds so to speak, are drawn to the readers attention. The first of these scenarios is the normal daily life of Connie, a fifteen year old girl. Connie's daily life is the simple childhood. The second of these worlds is the day Arnold Friend shows up at her doorstep and brings with him the complexity of what the future holds.

The story begins by introducing to the readers Connie, who becomes the focal point of the entire story. Oates wrote the story in a third person perspective yet still managed to allow her readers the thoughts and emotions of Connie. A clear image is Reiter

drawn by describing the day to day events of Connie in order to invoke a tie with the audience and allow them to reminisce as to what their childhood was like. Oates uses this connection to her advantage so that there is a strong sinking feeling when Connie transitions from this stage to the next. Connie is described as being an attractive fifteen year old girl, stereotypical of what one might expect a girl her age to act. She spends her time listening to music, shopping, daydreaming, having fun, and trying to meet boys. Her friends share the same interests as she and when they were together were in there own little bubble where they "would lean together and whisper and laugh secretly"(199). Connie puts on two different fronts, one that is visible to her friends and a completely separate one that she displays to her family. "Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home."(199). Connie does not show any real affection for her family. She lies to her mother about who her friends are and what she does with them. Her father is apparently a workaholic. She presents her family in such a way that one might suspect that they were some type of embarrassment to her. Her sister, June, works at Connie's school "and if that weren't bad enough- with her in the same building." June is depicted as being an unattractive girl. Physical appearance was one thing that Connie held great importance to as she was obsessed with her own. Connie lives a fanciful life where she daydreams about boys, typical of any girl her age. Her mother tries to keep her head out of the clouds, telling her "her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams(199)". Her perspective on life was one that was sheltered by her youth. Her thoughts on boys were "sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs(201)." Their faces blended together in her mind, "dissolved into a single face Reiter

that was not really a face, but an idea(200)". The fact that she mentions them as an idea allows her a great deal of control them. Through this portion of the story, the reader is led to believe that Connie lives a relatively sheltered life, that not much to her exists out of the confines of her own home. Finally, one day the outside world comes to her in the form of Arnold Friend.

Connie's youthful world is invaded the day that Arnold Friend pulls up in her driveway. Even before Friend shows up, Connie has an experience where she wakes from a dream "and hardly knew where she was(201)". This was just the beginning of the eye opening experience that she was about to endure. Friend shows up at her house and tries to get Connie to go with him for a ride. The location is unknown to either of the characters when the subject is brought up. Here is the first direct link to the first portion of the title "where are you going". The location is left unknown in order to emphasize the uncertainty of the future one faces when he comes of age. "It was as if the idea of going for a ride somewhere, to some place, was a new idea to him(204)". In an effort to lure Connie out of the security of her home, he begins to threaten her family. For the first time, she actually shows some sort of positive feelings for her family which can be tied to her changing system of values.

The house for Connie resembles a safe haven for her. Home is a shelter where any person can go for safety from the outside world. As she was threatened by Friend, she retreated deeper and deeper into the house searching for her safety. There is a sense that she has changed from her childhood ways and the house could no longer protect her. "The kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before, some room she had run inside Reiter

but whitewash's good enough, wasn't going to help her(208)." The way the house seems to change in her perception shows that she is beginning the passage from childhood to adulthood. When she reaches the decision to leave the house to go with Friend, it is almost as though she has no choice. This directly relates to one's own feelings on growing up, no one wants to yet no one is left with the choice not to. Her leaving the house to go with him also represents her leaving behind her childhood, venturing off to the unknown, and also the fanciful life she once lived.

Friend's appearance is referenced to several times through out the story. In all of Connie's daydreams and fantasies, the faces are all jumbled together. Oates takes particular interest in the description of Friend's face, and purposely makes him somewhat unattractive. In doing so, she contrasts Connie's dreams about love and relationships with boys. Connie's idea of her fantasy boys' faces being blended together are ruined because of the distinct characteristics on Friend's face as well as the face that he has painted on the side of his car. He is not the romantic hero from the movies or the person referred to in the songs she listens to in his physical appearance, language, or mental stability.. The fact the two men that visit with Connie are older, shows the coming of age for Connie will also be soon. Friend wears makeup in order to appear younger. He attempts to connect with her youth in the way he was "running through all the expressions he'd learned but was no longer sure which or them was in style(209)." In his attempt to appear hip, he actually proceeds to confuse Connie the way he revealed the "x" in the are as his "mark". The way he rattles off the numbers written of the side of his car as if she should know what they meant, leaves her dumbfounded. The numbers are actually a Reiter

Bible reference. The 33rd section of Judges, Chapter 19, verse 17 says: "When he noticed the traveler in the public square of the city, the old man asked where he was going, and whence he had come (New American Bible)". This is a slightly harder to find reference that ties once again back to the title of the story.

The transition between one's youth and adulthood does not always happen as quickly as it takes place in the story. It is a gradual process that occurs over time and comes so unexpectedly that there is no real way to prepare for it. There is not set age that our fantasy world is crushed by the uncertainty of the future. It is naïve to believe that it will never happen. Joyce Carol Oates shows just how sheltered that children really are and how abruptly it all could end. This story was dedicated to Bob Dylan as his song It's All Over Now, Baby Blue was the inspiration for it. It is only right to leave with a quote from his inspirational song: The vagabond who's rapping at your door

Is standing in the clothes that you wore.

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