Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been is a short story written by Joyce Carol Oates and first published in 1966. It tells about Connie, a fifteen-year-old girl who feels different from her family and seeks acceptance and confirmation of her beauty and uniqueness in other people. She begins to date different boys secretly and thinks that she is better than her mother, father, and elder sister. However, Connie loses all her courage when she meets a strange guy who calls himself Arnold Friend and tells Connie that he le loves her and that she “couldn’t ask for nobody better” than him (Oates). He forces Connie to follow him at first by complimenting and trying to gain her trust, but when she refuses, he becomes more aggressive and threatens her. The reader, as well as Connie, sees certain weirdness in his appearance, such as his hair, skin or manner of walking, which insinuates that the character may be unreal. That is why the main question the audience encounters is whether Arnold and everything connected to him was real or was it just Connie’s nightmare.
The conflict between real and unreal is among the story’s central themes since it is quite hard to distinguish between reality and unreality in the story. On the one hand, common sense tells the readers that supernatural things do not exist, and that is why Arnold may be just a fruit of Connie’s imagination. At the same time, the character is described as something material and looks like an ordinary human being. However, the unreal things he does to Connie and the whole image of Arnold as well may be interpreted in a symbolic sense since Arnold’s figure reveals one more significant problem the story is about.
The conversation between Connie and Arnold shows that the girl who perceives herself as a mature woman with a lot of experience with men is afraid of those who try to communicate with her voluntarily. Arnold, in that case, represents the vices of the adult world Connie is eager to enter. The girl constantly seeks independence from her family, she wants to differ from her mother and sister, and Arnold may be a person who can help her with her search. However, when the girl sees him and speaks to him, she understands that she is not ready to leave her father’s house and be Arnold’s “lover” (Oates). However, it does not matter since Arnold is quite determined to take the girl with him, and he does that, so the end of the story is quite ominous.
The scene of Connie leaving with Arnold may be interpreted in an ambiguous way. In the context of seeking independence from the family, it may seem that the girl was completely absorbed by the vice. Arnold and his desire to take Connie away with him and become her lover aligns with this interpretation. However, since his character in many cases seems unrealistic, the conversation between Connie and him may be a fruit of her imagination. Thus, Connie’s mind just shows her a nightmare with an image of the guy she once saw that shows her the consequences of her attempts of becoming mature at fifteen.
Taking into consideration everything mentioned above, it is possible to conclude that according to common sense, the situation in the book may be considered Connie’s nightmare. It demonstrates the outcomes of her searching for independence from the family through numerous meetings with different men, and Arnold’s image serves as a collective portrait of those she may encounter in the future. However, the story has an ambiguous ending that can be perceived as either the tragic fate that awaits Connie or her final but forced gaining of independence from the family.
Oates, Joyce Carol. Where Are You Going, Where Have you Been? Ontario University Press, 1991. Ontario University Press.