Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? | Study Guide

Joyce Carol Oates

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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? | Plot Summary & Analysis

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Summary

Introducing Connie

Concerned with her appearance, Connie, the 15-year-old protagonist of "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" habitually looks at the mirror or checks "other people's faces to make sure her own [i]s all right." Connie's mother, once attractive herself, both understands and disapproves of her daughter's vanity, scolding her, "Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you're so pretty?" However, Connie is concerned only with looks, and she is confident that she is pretty.

Connie is tired of her mother's nagging, to the point that she "wishe[s] her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over." Her mother compares Connie unfavorably with her older daughter, Connie's 24-year-old "plain and chunky" sister June, who lives at home and works as a secretary at Connie's high school. As the dutiful daughter, June receives much praise from Connie's mother and aunts. By contrast they believe Connie's irresponsible and incompetent, "her mind ... filled with trashy daydreams." Connie's father spends a lot of time at work. At home he is content to eat, read the newspaper, and sleep; he shows no interest in talking with his family. Connie complains about her mother, who nags and gossips.

The only thing Connie approves of about June is her social life: she goes places with friends, which means that Connie's mother will also allow her to go out with her friends. When Connie and her friend go out, which they do several nights a week because it is summer, Connie's friend's father drives the girls to the shopping plaza, where they claim they are walking around or going to a movie—although the girls do not tend to restrict their movements to the plaza. When he picks them up at 11 p.m., he does not ask what the girls have done.

The girls, who dress similarly, whisper and laugh secretly at people who amuse or interest them. Connie and her friend are likely familiar sights at the shopping plaza; Connie's long, blond hair attracts attention. Everything about Connie, including her clothes, walk, and laugh, is two-sided, "one for home and one for anywhere that [i]s not home."

Connie's Misadventures

Sometimes the girls cross the highway to go to the drive-in restaurant where the older kids hang out. One night while Connie and her friend are there, Eddie, an older boy, invites Connie to go somewhere else to get something to eat. She leaves her friend at the restaurant, arranging to meet just before 11 when her friend's father will pick them up. As Connie and Eddie walk toward his car in the parking lot, Connie feels alive with pleasure, a feeling strengthened perhaps because of the ever-present music. At this moment a boy in a gold-colored convertible jalopy notices and stares at Connie and smiles; "Gonna get you, baby," he says.

After spending three hours with Eddie at a restaurant and then in an alley, Connie rejoins her friend, whose father drives them home. As usual, he never asks what they did, although both seem to have enjoyed themselves.

At home Connie thinks about the boys she has met. She is less interested in any individual than in "an idea, a feeling." Her emotions are sexually charged, "mixed up with the urgent insistent pounding of the music" and fueled by the hot summer air. When Connie's mother asks about other girls, implying some misadventure, Connie does not want to talk about them. "She always drew thick clear lines between herself and such girls." She feels bad about trying to fool her mother despite her mother's nagging and backbiting. Connie knows her mother does not actually dislike her and in fact thinks her mother prefers her to June because she is prettier, and to Connie, looks are everything. It seems as if the frustration each has with the other is a façade, and "they [a]re tugging and struggling over something of little value to either of them."

One Sunday Connie's parents and sister go to a barbecue at a relative's house, but Connie stays home alone, earning her mother's disapproval once again. After sunbathing for a while and thinking romantically about the boy she met the previous evening, Connie goes inside and turns on the radio "to drown out the quiet."

Arnold Arrives

An hour and a half later, too early for her family to return, an unfamiliar gold-colored convertible enters Connie's driveway. Her heart pounds, and Connie wonders how she looks. Connie goes to the door and sees two boys, recognizing the driver. He says to Connie, who does not know his name, "I ain't late, am I?" to which she replies, "Who the hell do you think you are?"

Connie speaks carefully to the driver "to show no interest or pleasure" and checks out the passenger who ignores her. Both boys wear sunglasses. The driver invites Connie for a ride and compliments her, mentioning his friend has a radio. Connie hears the music, which is the same as what she is listening to. The two exchange some words about the music, but Connie cannot decide whether she likes this person or not.

As Connie asks about the writing and image on his car, the driver gets out and starts explaining it. The writing includes his name, Arnold Friend, along with a "secret code": the numbers 33, 19, 17. "I'm gonna be your friend, honey, and inside the car's Ellie Oscar, he's kinda shy," Arnold Friend tells her. The car and the attention interest Connie, as do Arnold Friend's clothing and physique, but she continues to refuse a ride, claiming she has things to do.

Short, thin, and muscular, Arnold Friend has a familiar face. He surprises Connie by knowing her name. When asked about this knowledge, Arnold Friend says, "I know my Connie." At this point Connie remembers he is the boy she saw at the drive-in and who said, "Gonna get you, baby." Arnold Friend replies, "I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl, and found out all about you." He says he knows many people around town; Connie does not believe him and wonders why she never noticed him before.

As Arnold invites her again, the two of them are only 10 feet apart. The distance leaves Connie uncomfortable, so she stands behind the screen door, "listening to the music from her radio and the boy's blend together." Connie stares at Arnold Friend, who is pretending to be relaxed, and realizes something is not quite right. She abruptly asks how old he is, recognizing him as considerably older, maybe even 30. This knowledge makes Connie's heart pound. Arnold Friend claims he is 18.

When the conversation turns to Ellie, both Connie and Arnold agree he is strange. Ellie, too, is older, with "the face of a forty-year-old baby." The knowledge shocks Connie and causes her to feel dizzy. Uncomfortable, Connie suggests the boys leave, but Arnold Friend refuses and insists Connie join them outside. When Connie says no, he says, "We ain't leaving until you come with us."

His attitude and persistence frighten Connie, who starts talking about her father coming home, but Arnold knows where her father and the entire family are and what they are doing. The information leaves Connie feeling lightheaded. Arnold Friend then instructs Connie to come out of the house and sit with him in the front seat of the car, saying, "Yes, I'm your lover. You don't know what that is but you will." He describes how he will make love to her. Connie covers her ears to avoid listening to his voice and says, "People don't talk like that, you're crazy." Arnold approaches the porch steps and nearly falls before regaining his balance.

Connie's Fear Builds

Connie insists Arnold Friend leave, or she will call the police. Arnold Friend just smiles, and Connie sees his whole face as a mask "as if he had plastered makeup on his face." He promises Connie he is not coming into the house but keeps insisting she will come outside; however, if she calls the police, he will break his promise. Connie tries to lock the screen door, but Arnold Friend reminds her anybody can break through a screen door or any other door, adding if the place were set on fire, she would run out and into his arms. His speech reminds Connie of a song from the previous year.

Connie asks Arnold Friend what he wants. His response is he wants her and has wanted her since he saw her at the drive-in restaurant. When Connie mentions her father is coming back for her, Arnold knows she is lying. He bows down to show his appreciation and almost falls again. He adjusts his feet, and Connie notes, "The boots must have been stuffed with something so that he would seem taller."

Ellie offers to disconnect the telephone in Connie's house, but his offer annoys and embarrasses Arnold. Connie again threatens to call the police. Arnold Friend is not frightened and asks Connie, "Don't you know who I am?" Connie calls him crazy.

Arnold tells Connie to come out so they can go for a ride, or "We're gonna wait till your people come home and then they're all going to get it." When Ellie again offers to disconnect the telephone, Arnold Friend tells him Connie is going to come nicely.

Once again, Arnold Friend threatens Connie's family. He tells her "It won't last long ... you'll like me the way you ... like people you're close to. You will." Connie, terrified, picks up the phone but hears only a roaring in her ear. When she tries to dial, her fingers are too weak. Connie cries for her mother. As she does this, Connie feels as though Arnold Friend is stabbing her again and again with no tenderness. It is some time before she can hear again; she is sitting on the floor and her back is wet. Arnold Friend is still at the door, menacingly coaching Connie to put the phone down and come outside.

Connie's Fate

Connie feels empty and thinks of all she is about to lose. Arnold Friend confirms her fears and says he can knock down her house. Connie tries to regain her wits while Arnold continues to describe what they are going to do and again mentions, in a menacing tone, her family. Arnold instructs Connie to come outside and says she is better than her family because they would not sacrifice themselves for her, as she is about to sacrifice herself for them. Connie's dreams of love and romance are replaced by her dread of the oncoming sexual assault.

As if having an out-of-body experience, Connie sees herself push open the screen door. Connie notices the land as if she does not recognize it "except to know that she was going to it." Arnold is waiting. Joyce Carol Oates does not choose to describe what happens next, but as Connie leaves the porch to go to him, it seems clear Connie will obey his every command.

Analysis

Parental Guidance

Connie is 15 and on the cusp of adulthood. As with many adolescents, her relationship with her parents is difficult. Connie has practically no relationship with her father, who is more interested in the newspaper, work, and sleep than in his daughter. On the other hand, Connie's mother is actively engaged with her daughter, but the engagement is often more negative than positive. She regularly scolds Connie and contrasts her unfavorably with her sister, June. Although at times mother and daughter "[a]re almost friends," inevitably something arises and they bicker again. Connie is frustrated with her mother and sometimes wishes both of them were dead. While these thoughts might be adolescent hyperbole, the statement reflects Connie's flair for the dramatic and foreshadows the end of the story.

In addition to its biblical allusion, the title, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is an indicator Connie's parents are not actively engaged in her life. These are the types of questions parents often ask their children. Because June, Connie's responsible and dependable older sister, goes out with friends, Connie's parents do not question her when she goes to the shopping plaza—even though she is nine years younger than June and neither responsible nor dependable. Connie's mother, constantly nagging Connie at home where she is seemingly safe, shows little concern about her daughter when she leaves to go out, where she may face dangers she would not face at home. The story creates situational irony, however, when Arnold Friend brings the dangers of the outer world into Connie's safe haven, which she has regarded as too restrictive and tedious.

When Connie's mother does ask about Connie's friends, she is content with Connie's simple answers and does not sense Connie's lies and half-truths. According to Connie, "Her mother [i]s simple and kind enough to believe it." Although Connie feels a moment of guilt about fooling her mother, she does not change her behavior.

Moreover, Connie's friend's father, who drives the girls to the shopping plaza, seems equally uninterested in the whereabouts of his daughter and Connie. As long as the girls are ready to go at the designated time, he is content, for "He never bothered to ask what they had done."

Music and Dreams

Music is significant in the story. Connie and the teens around her are connected by and engaged in music, often reimagining events in their lives, especially those involving romance, as song lyrics or comparing such events to song lyrics. Music is one of their main topics of conversation and seems to be always in the background, if not the foreground, of their lives. Connie even walks as if she were "hearing music in her head." With easy access to transistor radios, teenagers listen to music constantly, sometimes causing friction between "distracted" teenagers and parents.

Connie and her friend Betty sit at the counter at the "fly-infested restaurant." However, for the girls the restaurant has a religious-like quality—a "sacred building ... to give them what haven and blessing they yearned for." While they are at the restaurant, the music excites the girls and makes them see the place as something greater than itself. The music "made everything so good ... always in the background ... it was something to depend upon." When Connie walks with Eddie toward his car, her joy of life is enhanced by the music.

When Arnold Friend pulls up to Connie's house, he draws attention to the music Ellie is listening to. As a reference to both Charles Schmid Jr. (called the "Pied Piper of Tucson") and the original Pied Piper of legend who used music to lure children from their homes, Arnold Friend uses music to appeal to Connie. This ploy proves successful at first, as Connie's initial sense of familiarity with Arnold Friend comes from the musical connection, as she hears "the same program that was playing inside the house." Their conversation centers on the music; both listen to the same radio station and like the same DJ.

Arnold Friend uses music to infiltrate Connie's world and make himself seem much closer to her age than he is. Music impacts Connie and forms the background to her dreams. She, like other teens around her, is swept up in music, which draws them together. Arnold Friend, however, turns the music into something evil as part of his plan.

Furthermore, Arnold Friend's speech is influenced by music. In trying to sound younger than he is, he talks in a "singsong way" and has a "simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting the words to a song." When Connie finally submits and comes out to appease Arnold Friend, he recites some lyrics "in a half-sung sigh." In addition to his speech, Arnold Friend's movements, like Connie's languid way of walking, seem to follow music, as he taps "one fist against the other in homage to the perpetual music behind him."

Sexuality

Connie is on the cusp of adult sexuality. As the story opens, she is obsessed with appearance, constantly checking to see how she looks. Because her sister June is "plain and chunky," Connie feels superior to her, even believing their mother prefers Connie because of her looks. At 15, and influenced by romantic song lyrics, Connie believes looks are more important than anything else.

While at home, Connie hides the sexual part of herself, saving it for the times when she is out. Indeed, everything is different when she is out, including her walk, her laugh, and the way she wears her clothes and styles her hair to attract male admiration. When Eddie and Connie leave the drive-in restaurant and walk to his car, she "drew her shoulders up and sucked in her breath," feeling "the pure pleasure of being alive." At this moment, as Connie revels in her sexuality, Arnold Friend is watching attentively.

The three hours Connie spends with Eddie include eating hamburgers and drinking cokes at another restaurant, as well as some time in his car "down an alley a mile or so away." What exactly they do or do not do is unclear; however, it is not the first time Connie has spent time alone with a boy. None of the boys she has met mean much to Connie; rather she is in love with the idea of love, as it is in songs; "All the boys ... dissolved into ... an idea, a feeling." When she is alone at home, she thinks about a boy, the latest in the line of those she hangs out with. Connie's thoughts about love and sex focus on "How nice ... sweet ... gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs."

When Arnold Friend first appears at her house, Connie is intrigued and excited because a more mature boy is paying attention to her, although she pretends to be indifferent. When he compliments Connie's appearance, she is flattered, and when he mentions action, with its sexual connotations, Connie blushes. Arnold Friend's maturity, similar interest in music, and pursuit of Connie seem to come straight from a fairy tale or song.

Only when Connie recognizes that Arnold is considerably older and aggressive does she become concerned. Arnold says he is going to love Connie. "You don't know what that is but you will ... I'm always nice ... the first time." As he becomes more graphic, Connie's fears increase. Connie is not even prepared for adult sexual relationships, much less the predatory tactics of a sexual deviant like Arnold Friend. He is neither like the boys she meets and spends time with in cars nor like the romantic suitors of popular songs.

When Arnold Friend becomes most dangerous, Connie reverts to childhood, her appearance and romantic fantasies forgotten. As she screams, terrified, into the phone, she cries for her mother. While Connie attempts to make this phone call, she imagines Arnold Friend raping her. "Arnold Friend was stabbing her ... again and again with no tenderness." Her romantic fantasies have become terrifying realities. The end of the story leaves her ultimate fate ambiguous; whether she will live or die is uncertain.

Religion and Myth

Connie's family does not "bother to go to church"; traditional religion, along with parental guidance, is missing in Connie's life. However, she finds a substitute in the drive-in restaurant. Connie and Betty sit at the counter at the "fly-infested restaurant," which has a religious-like quality, for they see it as a "sacred building ... to give them what haven and blessing they yearned for." As they sit there, they listen to the background music. "Like music at a church service; it was something to depend on." Connie faithfully attends the restaurant, follows its rituals, and believes in what it offers.

Religion is present in the story instead through religious mythology, fairy tales, and folktales, which present a picture of evil corrupting the innocent. The numbers 33, 19, 17 painted on Arnold's car are an allusion to a biblical quotation. Counting backward, in a perversion of typical bible use, Judges is the 33rd book in the Bible. In Judges 19:17, an old man asks a traveler, "Where are you going? Where did you come from?" before offering the man his home for the night. Later, wicked men surround the house and demand the release of the traveler so they can have sex with him. The old man instead releases his mistress, who is raped so violently she falls dead in the man's doorway.

In many fairy tales, wicked witches, wolves, ogres, and other devilish creatures are predators lurking around young, vulnerable children. Arnold Friend is an otherworldly evil character. His nose is "sniffing as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up," which is an allusion to the witch in "Hansel and Gretel" and the wolf in "Little Red Riding Hood." Like a devil, he appears seemingly out of nowhere; he appears omniscient, and his ill-fitting boots might enclose demonic hooves rather than human feet. In her innocence Connie is drawn to him and the lure of his music, but she senses something is amiss and remains inside what she thinks is her protected area. Tragically, neither she nor the screen door is strong enough to ward off the evil that wins in the story.

Who Is Arnold Friend?

Based on the real-life Charles Schmid Jr., a rapist and serial killer, Arnold Friend is a highly dangerous character. He appears out of nowhere when Connie is alone. When he first talks to Connie, he behaves as though he expects her to know who he is and to be waiting for him. "I ain't late, am I? ... Toldja I'd be out, didn't I?" In a way, however, he is not wrong, as he could be said to represent the evil side of romantic expectations: they are as unreal as Connie's youthful ideals.

Connie is confused. He appears familiar; he dresses like the boys Connie knows, listens to similar music, uses the same slang, and talks like actors in a movie. At first glance Arnold Friend seems just another, somewhat older, local teen. But something about Arnold Friend is off, and Connie soon realizes it. He seems put together awkwardly and mismatched. He is on the verge of falling over multiple times. His feet do not go to the end of his boots: they "must have been stuffed with something so that he would seem taller." His height and the stuffing of his boots are references to Charles Schmid Jr., who was short and did in fact stuff his boots with crushed cans and newspaper.

Some critics have suggested Arnold Friend is actually a personification of Satan when the r in Arnold and Friend is deleted, he is "an old fiend." There is something eerily demonic about Arnold Friend. He knows details about Connie's friends, family, and neighbors, and he knows where Connie's family is while he is talking to her. He shares plausible details with Connie, frightening her all the more. He has clearly been stalking Connie since noticing her at the restaurant.

When Connie becomes overwhelmed by fear, she attempts to call her mother. As she struggles with the phone, she seems to feel Arnold Friend stabbing her. However, two lines later "Arnold Friend is saying from the door, 'That's a good girl. Put the phone back.'" Arnold seems to be in two places at once in the mind of the terrified Connie. She is in some way aware of what will happen to her and that Arnold Friend will be the instrument of her destruction.

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Connie's mother annoys her daughter with her nagging.

Rising Action

2 Connie and her friend go to the drive-in restaurant.

3 Connie goes off with Eddie, a boy she meets at the drive-in.

4 Arnold Friend notices Connie as she walks to Eddie's car.

5 Connie's family goes to a barbecue, leaving her home alone.

6 Arnold Friend and Ellie show up at Connie's house.

7 They flirt briefly, but Connie refuses to leave with them.

8 Arnold Friend becomes increasingly menacing.

Climax

9 Connie attempts to call her mother for help.

Falling Action

10 Connie recognizes Arnold Friend is going to rape her.

11 He threatens her and her family if she doesn't comply.

Resolution

12 Connie leaves her house and follows Arnold.

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