Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Joyce Carol Oates

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Course Hero. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Study Guide." February 9, 2017. Accessed November 27, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Where-Are-You-Going-Where-Have-You-Been/.


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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


What is the meaning of the title of Joyce Carol Oates's short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

The questions are not asked in the story. Instead, they allude to a biblical quote from Judges 19:17. In this verse, an old man asks a traveler the questions before offering the man the hospitality of his home. Evil men later try to get the old man to betray his guest by releasing the traveler to them for sex. The story ends with the violent rape and, ultimately, murder of the old man's mistress, whom he sends to them in place of the traveler. In "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" the numbers 33, 19, 17 are painted on the car of the antagonist, Arnold Friend, who successfully lures Connie from her home to rape and, the story strongly suggests, murder her. When counted backward, Judges is the 33rd book of the Bible. The allusion parallels Connie's decision to sacrifice herself so that Arnold Friend will not harm her family. The title also points to the strained relationship between Connie and her parents, who nag her about her behavior but do not question her actions. Her mother allows Connie to go out without supervision under the mistaken assumption she will be as well-behaved as her older sister, June. Her father, similarly, never asks her where she has been when he picks her up.

What role does religion play in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Connie's family shows little interest in organized religion; "none of them bothered with church." Instead, Connie worships aspects of youth culture. She approaches the diner as if it was "a sacred building ... to give them what haven and blessing they yearned for." Inside the diner, music plays constantly in the background, "like music at a church service; it was something to depend upon." Connie's misplaced faith leaves her accessible to the devil in the form of Arnold Friend. Significantly, it is on a Sunday that Arnold lures her from her home; his car bears a series of numbers that allude to a biblical story in which a young woman dies from sexual violence.

How does Connie's breathing mirror her emotional state in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

In the beginning of the story, Connie is "breathless with daring" as she and her friend run to the diner. Later, while at the diner, Connie sucks in her breath with "pure pleasure." While home alone, she gently breathes in and out, enjoying her freedom. Arnold Friend first sees Connie when she "sucked in her breath." He is attracted to her and says, "Gonna get you, baby." When Connie feels threatened by Arnold Friend, her breath changes. Somehow, Arnold Friend is describing her family at the picnic, and Connie's breath is "coming quickly." When Connie realizes the danger she is in, she calls her mother but the call does not go through. At this point, her breath is "jerking back and forth in her lungs as if it were something Arnold Friend" is raping. Her breath has changed to mirror her emotional state. It seems only a matter of time until she is left literally breathless: dead.

How does Connie's dizziness represent her recognition of Arnold Friend's power over her in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

When Arnold Friend first arrives, Connie is curious about him as he seems to be an answer to her romantic dreams. As he pulls up, "Her heart [begins] to pound ... and she [is] wondering how bad she look[s]." He tries to convince her to come for a ride as she tries to decide if she is interested in him. Either way, Connie feels Arnold Friend is like the other boys she knows and in no way feels threatened by him. However, as Arnold Friend's power grows over Connie, she becomes more lightheaded. As the conversation continues, Connie realizes Arnold Friend and Ellie are much older than she is. At this point, "Connie felt a wave of dizziness rise in her." She is nervous and is "waiting for something ... to make it all right again." Later, when Arnold refuses to leave, Connie feels a second round of dizziness. The dizziness combined with fear leaves Connie unable to focus. Finally, after recognizing her mother is not coming to help her, Connie is overwhelmed and faints.

Why does Connie's mother seem to favor June over Connie in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

June and Connie are opposites in many ways: Connie is attractive and obsessed with her looks. June is "plain and chunky." Connie is irresponsible and spends much of her time focused on "trashy daydreams." June is responsible and can be counted on. Connie exudes sexuality while June is described as homely. Together the two sisters illustrate the concept of a generation gap. Connie is a representative of a new generation that is significantly different from her older sister's; June is like a throwback to her mother's generation with her conservative morals. As Connie explores her sexuality and obsesses over music, her mother can't understand her as she understands June.

How does Connie's relationship with her mother compare and contrast to a typical parent-teen relationship in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Connie and her mother seem to have little patience for each other. Connie is anxious to spend time with her friends and dreams of independence. She has gotten to the age where she wants to do things her way and is not interested in her mother's opinion. Her mother, in turn, does not approve of her actions and lets her know about it, asking questions such as "Why don't you keep your room clean?" and "How've you got your hair fixed?" While their relationship is fraught with frustration, it is not so different from what many teenagers have with their parents. This is the tragedy of the story; Connie is like any teen girl but has the bad fortune to be targeted by a sexual predator.

Why do Connie's parents agree to leave Connie home alone in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Connie has chosen not to go to the barbecue the rest of her family attends. Her parents respond in typical ways as she rolls her eyes and indicates her displeasure in the outing. Her father does not engage with her at all. Connie's mother's reaction is to say sharply, "Stay home alone then." The parents' reactions are typical of their interactions with Connie. Her father is uninterested in her and the rest of his family. When he comes home from work, he wants only to eat, read the newspaper, and sleep. Regarding his family, "He didn't bother talking much to them." Connie's mother is engaged in her daughter's life but she focuses on criticizing Connie's shortcomings. Her mother offers no advice, asks few questions, and ultimately gives Connie too much freedom as she seeks danger and excitement.

How does Connie relate to her family and friends in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Connie is completely self-absorbed; her interest in others is based on what they can do for her and how they reflect on her own image. In particular she does not respect her family members. She mocks June as plain and steady. She wants her mother dead and says she is "'so simple.'" Her father is unimportant in her life. Nor does Connie appreciate her friends. While she seems to be friends with Betty, Connie never says the other girl's name; readers learn it when Arnold Friend mentions it. When Connie's mother mentions one of the girls that Connie hangs out with, Connie says of her, "That dope." Connie reflects on how she draws "thick clear lines between herself and such girls." Even Eddie, whom Connie has spent a few hours with, simply fades away into a mix with all the other boys who are "not even a face but an idea, a feeling." The fact that the story's villain is named Friend—and that he is "A. Friend"—is an example of verbal irony.

In "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" how does Connie's obsession with her looks lead to her downfall?

Connie is as shallow and obsessed with her looks as a typical teenager. The text notes, "She knew she was pretty and that was everything." She has a habit of looking "into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right." She even thinks her mother might prefer her to her staid older sister, June, because Connie is prettier. Connie's obsession over her appearance, however, makes her more vulnerable to Arnold Friend. Just after he arrives at Connie's house, he compliments her appearance, and she is happy to receive his compliment. The conversation continues and leads to her abduction.

What "two sides" does Connie have, and why are they significant in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

The narrator says about Connie, "Everything about her had two sides to it." Connie's walk, laugh, and makeup are different depending on where she is. One side comes out while Connie is at home, and the other side appears when Connie is out with her friends. When Connie is home, she tries to rein in her budding sexuality. At home her walk is "childlike and bobbing," her mouth "pale and smirking," and her laugh "cynical and drawling." When outside of her house, however, Connie is fully engaged in her budding sexuality. Her walk is "languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head," her mouth "bright and pink," her laugh "high pitched and nervous ... like the jingling of the charms on her bracelet." Connie's "outside self" is the one that catches Arnold Friend's interest. When he lures her from her home it is as if he kills her innocent home self altogether; he tells her, "It's all over for you here, so come on out."

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