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

Joyce Carol Oates

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Course Hero. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Study Guide." Course Hero. 9 Feb. 2017. Web. 13 Dec. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Where-Are-You-Going-Where-Have-You-Been/>.

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Course Hero. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Study Guide." February 9, 2017. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Where-Are-You-Going-Where-Have-You-Been/.


Course Hero, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Study Guide," February 9, 2017, accessed December 13, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Where-Are-You-Going-Where-Have-You-Been/.

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? | Symbols


Gold Car

Cars are a means of independence. With a car one can go anywhere, and teens are particularly enamored of cars, which give them convenient transportation out of their homes. With a car a person has control—the authority to say where and when one can go. Arnold Friend's gold car is appealing as Connie's ticket to anywhere. For Connie it is like the fairy-tale princess's golden coach and is like no other car she has seen before. When Arnold Friend first pulls up to her house, Connie runs to the window and sees the gold car. When Arnold offers Connie a ride, she is intrigued. He tries to impress her with the car's new paint job. Duly impressed, Connie is nearly ready to go with him but begins to notice the odd markings on the car, including numbers and phrases. As Arnold Friend explains their meanings, Connie comes to realize something about him does not seem right.

As the story ends, Connie is walking into Arnold Friend's arms. He will take her to his car and put her next to him, and together they will drive off. The gold car, Connie's ticket to independence and romance, will take her away to an unknown, but surely violent, future as her fairy-tale dreams go wrong.

Screen Door

A door acts as a separation between two areas. Connie has two different and distinct sides to her, "one for home and one for anywhere that was not home." She is well aware of the duality and intentionally behaves in one capacity while at home and in another when away from home. At home Connie is still a child, but when out Connie believes herself more mature.

When Connie is home, she acts with some restraint by hiding or putting aside her more sexual self. Her mother disapproves of this side and describes Connie as having her mind "filled with trashy daydreams." When Connie and her friends go out, she dresses, walks, and talks differently as she attempts to attract male attention.

The screen door is also the barrier between safety and harm—or evil. Inside the door Connie is safe; outside she is not. While talking initially with Arnold Friend, Connie remains inside although very close to outside, with the door open. She is almost ready to go away and leave the house and her youth behind. As the conversation continues and Connie remains unsure, she grows cautious and retreats inside the house. Here she needs the barrier and senses she needs more protection. When Connie fully realizes Arnold Friend's evil intentions, she tries to lock the screen door. Arnold then says to Connie, "It's just a screen door. It's just nothing." The door that had once been the separation between Connie's youth and the maturity she seeks is no longer an effective barrier, and her home is no longer a place that can offer protection.


Rock and roll was the music to which teens listened when the story takes place. Many people in Connie's parents' generation felt threatened by rock music and condemned it as overly sexual and supporting ideas that had negative effects on young people.

For Connie, however, music is freedom, rebellion, and joy. Song lyrics, movies, and other forms of mass entertainment enable Connie to form her opinions on behavior, especially love. Connie is convinced she knows the way love works. When Connie is at the drive-in restaurant, she is happy. Contributing to her pleasure is "the music that made everything so good." While walking with Eddie to his car, Connie sighs deeply, happy to be alive. The joy she feels has "nothing to do with Eddie or even this place; it might have been the music." Connie longs to live a life depicted in the songs she hears.

When Arnold Friend comes to Connie's house, he and Connie establish a brief connection over music. They talk about Bobby King, the DJ both of them are listening to. As the conversation continues, Connie notes Arnold Friend speaks "as if he were reciting the words to a song." He moves his fist as if he were perpetually hearing music. The last words Arnold says to Connie are spoken "in a half-sung sigh" reminiscent of a song lyric. The music that has been part of and has fueled Connie's rebellion and longing for freedom helps lead her into the arms of Arnold Friend.

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