from dr Oliver Tearle (University of Loughborough)
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? is a 1966 short story by American writer Joyce Carol Oates. It is considered by many critics to be Oates' best story and for its treatment of some of the darker aspects of early 1960s America extensively studied and praised.
First publication in the literary journalErasIn 1966, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" was inspired by a series of real murders and dedicated to Bob Dylan, whose song "It's all over now, baby blue' was another inspiration for the story.
Before we offer an analysis of the ambiguous meaning of this story and Oates' use of symbols, here is a brief synopsis of her plot. You can read the story which takes about thirty minutes to read,Here.
"Where are you going, where have you been?": Summary of the plot
The story follows a rather rebellious fifteen-year-old girl named Connie, whose mother constantly berates her for being obsessed with her looks and for being no more sensible than her older sister, the plain-looking June. Connie often goes to a drive-through restaurant with her friend Betty, and one night she befriends an older man named Eddie who has a car.
After she spends a few hours with him, he takes her back to her friend's house and then she goes home. To keep her mother from suspecting such behavior, Connie tries to present herself differently at home by pretending to be "steadier" and more reasonable than she actually is.
The next day is a hot July day, a Sunday, and the rest of the family goes to Connie's aunt for a barbecue, but Connie refuses to go and stays home alone. As she sits outside in the sun, a car pulls up and two older men who call themselves Arnold Friend and Ellie Oscar try to persuade her to take the exit. Although Connie doesn't know her, Arnold's looks are familiar to them and he knows her name. Then she remembers seeing him at the restaurant the night before.
Reluctant to take them for a walk, Connie is suspicious when Arnold reveals how much he knows about their lives and friends. He claims to be the same age as her, but when she expresses disbelief, he claims to be a little older: eighteen. When she catches a glimpse of Ellie listening to music in the car, she realizes that he is also much older and has the face of an immature forty-year-old man. Arnold grows more persistent and intense in his desire for her, but this only makes Connie more nervous and suspicious until she threatens to call the police.
Arnold agrees not to come into the house Connie has retreated to while she is talking to him. However, he threatens her, implying that something will happen to her "people" if she doesn't come with him. He keeps encouraging her to come with him so he can show her what "love" really is.
Despite making a phone call, Connie is discouraged and eventually agrees to get out of the house and ride in the car with Arnold and Ellie. The story ends with her looking at the sunlit land beyond Arnold, expanding like an unknown new land, a land she is heading for.
"Where are you going, where have you been?": Analysis
Joyce Carol Oates was inspired to write this story after reading an accountLifeMagazine written by a young man who managed to seduce and then kill several young girls in Tucson, Arizona, in the early 1960s. However, the ultimate fate of fifteen-year-old Connie at the end of Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been remains open to interpretation, and so the story almost becomes a modern-day myth about theAdolescence's rite of passage, the transition from the security (and oppression) of childhood to the vast, "sunlit" (but also dangerous and unnerving) lands of adulthood.
In this context, the title of the story points to the threshold where Connie stands and looks back, where she was (childhood) and where she is going (adulthood). Oates reinforces Connie's borderline status by literally having her spend most of the story on or near an actual threshold: the door of her childhood home.
Also significant are the "two sides" of Connie's identity, mentioned early on by the third narrator of the story: she is caught between daughter at home and free-spirited woman (or lady-in-waiting) outside the family home. Once again, the boundary or threshold between "home" and "not home" (to use the narrator's words) is marked with meaning.
The meaning of this title "Where are you going, where have you been?" is hinted at again towards the end of the story when Arnold Friend tells Connie that the place she came from no longer exists and where she had intended to go, is no longer an option. He can easily destroy her father's house (an allusion to theBig bad wolffrom the famous children's fairy tale about the three little pigs).
But it's not clear what he means when he tells her that where she "wanted" to go is no longer an option for her. Arnold - whose mere surname signals his (perceived) identity as her friend rather than her enemy, but in a way that perhaps too strongly and suspiciously underscores his so-called "friendly" nature - paints himself as someone who has settled into her Living to help her across that threshold to a new land that she could not find on her own or that she would not accept without encouragement. It is important that the decision to cross the threshold is at least madeseelike her own, even if it is only the result of extensive coercion.
The mysterious origins of Arnold and Ellie, and the extent of Arnold's knowledge of Connie and her family — he even claims to be able to "see" what's going on at the family barbecue across town — suggest the two men are almost supernatural Visitors are those who possess more symbolic and mythical power than they exist as real people. It's like Arnold is a variation on thatInkubus, the male demon who is said to visit and have sex with sleeping women, but a modern incarnation of this character, in tight jeans and sunglasses. Alternatively, we could even consider Arnold Friend as a devil in disguise:Ftearis just one letter away fromDevil.
All of this is not to say that Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? is literally a tale of the supernatural. It's a realistic story, with dialogue and characterization that underscores the authenticity of the characters, operating in a world familiar to us as ours. But thesymbolismby Arnold Friend is nonetheless mythical: he seems to represent all young men, viewed by teenage girls as their introduction to the world of adult relationships, including the realities of sexual intercourse and the dangers that exist (not least for teenagers). can girls in their 60s).
Connie's age also plays a role: at fifteen she's still a legal child, although her body is clearly changing and maturing, her hormones giving her mixed signals about what she wants. At the beginning of the story, the Oates narrator implies that Connie is more in love with the idea ofhavea friend than anything else: all the boys she's met, we were told, "dissolved" into a single face that was more of an idea than a real person.
And in that regard, Connie's encounter with Eddie the night before the arrival of Arnold and Ellie (whose name even recalls Eddie's) acts as a symbolic foreshadowing of the events to come on Sunday: it's as if Connie is "ready" now. Be seduced by the strange devilish figure arriving in her parents' front drive, and this is where the fact that both Eddie and Arnold arrive in cars, a symbol of adulthood and independence, matters.
Ultimately, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? is a powerful - almost archetypal, one might say - exploration of the confusion, uncertainty and hesitation that accompany growing up as young people, and young girls in particular, as they make the difficult journey from girlhood. go to femininity. We could call this a "rite of passage" or "coming of age," but given the dark true events that inspired it, Oates' story is disturbing because it implies that coercion and threats are not only common, but perhaps even necessary in to get undecided young girls across this threshold in a patriarchal society.