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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" what is the significance of the song lyric Arnold Friend sings about a blue-eyed girl?

Connie is Arnold Friend's latest conquest. He is clearly experienced at the sort of behavior he shows in the story. His deviance is reflected in his insistence that Connie is his date when he speaks to Ellie. It seems as if he and Ellie work as a team to abduct young girls. Connie is part of Arnold Friend's twisted fantasy. While he claims to love her, she is simply the latest young girl filling the role of his lover. While he hopes Connie will "be sweet and nice" to him, she could be anyone. For him it makes no difference if a girl has blue eyes, as in the song, or brown eyes like Connie's.

What does "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" suggest about Connie's ultimate fate?

The author makes Arnold Friend's intention to rape Connie clear. He calls himself her "lover" and speaks to her so explicitly that she is shocked. What is less clear is whether or not he plans to kill her. The story is based on murders of young girls committed by Charles Schmid Jr., and Arnold Friend does talk casually about murder when referring to Connie's family. It is easy for readers to imagine death being Connie's fate. At the same time, when she asks Arnold what he is going to do with her, he says, "Just two things, or maybe three." The "maybe" seems to leave open the possibility that he might let her live.

What does the vast land mentioned in the last sentence of the story represent in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

As the story ends Connie is headed out of her house and toward "vast sunlit reaches of the land ... so much land that Connie had never seen." The vast land represents Connie's future. The future is unknown; she is only aware that she is going to a forced sexual initiation that she may or may not survive. The text says that she doesn't recognize the land "except to know that she [is] going to it." The concept of "going to the land" could refer to Arnold's stated plan to take her to a country field, or it could suggest that he will kill and bury her. The ending is ambiguous.

How does Connie shift from an unsympathetic to a sympathetic character in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

As the short story begins, Connie is a self-centered, vain, and pompous child-woman. She cares only about her appearance and is unkind to her family. She goes so far as to wish her mother was dead and insult her sister's appearance and behavior. By the end of the story, Connie is a sympathetic character. As she struggles with Arnold Friend, readers see that Connie is not the mature, confident person she projects earlier in the story. She calls for her mother when in need and hopes for her father to return. She worries about her family when they are threatened and ultimately sacrifices herself to keep them safe. As Connie is being lured away by Arnold Friend, she is a sympathetic character.

In "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" what characteristics make Arnold Friend seem otherworldly?

Arnold Friend behaves in ways associated with otherworldly evil figures from legends. He first appears lurking in a parking lot outside the building Connie and Betty consider a religious haven, with its sense of community and ever-present music. Like a devil, Arnold does not enter this sanctuary but waits outside it. And like a vampire, he is unable to enter Connie's house unless she asks him in. The character is omniscient; He is able to describe what Connie's family is doing even though they are in another place. He also seems to have the ability to be in two places at once. He is seemingly able to be inside Connie's house while she is trying to call her mother, even though he is also waiting for her outside.

How is "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"reminiscent of a fairy tale gone wrong?

Joyce Carol Oates described the Bob Dylan songs that she associated with the story as "fairy tales gone wrong." A number of scenes in the story evoke various fairy tales. Like the wolf in "The Three Little Pigs" Arnold Friend says he can knock down the cardboard house and break through the screen door. He insists Connie come out of the house before he destroys it. And like the wolf in "Little Red Riding Hood" Arnold Friend disguises himself, pretends to be someone Connie should know, and sniffs at her as if he is going to "gobble her up." Like the witch in "Snow White" Arnold Friend comes to Connie in disguise and pretends to care for her, but he has evil intentions. He comes in a gold car with a pumpkin-like face painted on it, like the magical pumpkin that is transformed into a coach in "Cinderella." The fairy tale of Oates's story "goes wrong" because fairy-tale endings turn out happily. Connie's story does not.

How can Connie be viewed as a victim of her time period in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Connie is unconsciously influenced by the women's liberation movement that gained force in the 1960s. In sharp contrast to her older sister, she feels empowered sexually; she spends time with boys and does not feel tied down to any of them. At 15 she has romantic fantasies, visions of the future, and the confidence that she can do as she pleases. However, Connie mistakes her freedom for power. She has power only over boys her own age. She has seemingly absorbed new freedoms but has not been warned about sexual predators. Her excessive confidence blinds her from the danger posed by the much older Arnold Friend.

Why does Arnold Friend ask Connie about "that old woman down the road" in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Arnold asks Connie if she knows the old woman, "the one with the chickens and stuff," and when Connie replies, "She's dead!" Arnold oddly replies, "What? You know her? ... Don't you like her?" and then asks if Connie has a grudge against the woman. The strange conversation suggests that to Arnold, perhaps in his role as Connie's possible murderer, the dead and the living are alike. He seems to embody death itself, an image reinforced by Connie's spiritual death at the end of the story. Like a soul hovering above a dying body, she is able to "[watch] this body and this head of long hair" moving into Arnold's embrace.

In "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" what are the negative aspects of music?

Connie is obsessed with rock and roll. She hears songs in her head and moves as if the music is playing in her mind. Her visions of love and romance are formed by the music, and they are highly unrealistic. When Connie is walking with Eddie to his car, she is filled "with the pure pleasure of being alive" and her joy "might have been the music." At this point Arnold Friend sees Connie exuding joy and sexuality and is pathologically attracted to her. Connie strives to mimic the sexuality she hears in the music, in her walk and in her way of talking. However, she is not mature enough to handle adult sex, a point brought into stark relief by her encounter with Arnold.

In what ways does "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" depict a coming of age for Connie?

In the beginning of the story, Connie lives in a fantasy world. She is intrigued by romance and experiments sexually with boys. She dreams that the right boy will not only love her but will take her away from her parents' house, where she feels confined. In some ways Arnold Friend is the boy of Connie's dreams. He is sexually experienced, is attracted to Connie, and is ready to take her away in his gold car. Connie, of course, realizes too late she is not ready to fulfill her dreams, and Arnold Friend is an older predator. This understanding, as well as her pending initiation into a sexualized world, forces Connie to grow up quickly. Tragically, she will not be able to learn from her mistakes and might not survive them.

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