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. 19 Nov. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Where-Are-You-Going-Where-Have-You-Been/>.

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Course Hero. (2017, February 9). Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 19, 2018, from 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 November 19, 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 November 19, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Where-Are-You-Going-Where-Have-You-Been/.

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


The short story is a coming-of-age tale, or—Joyce Carol Oates herself once noted—a "fairy tale gone wrong." Its themes center on Connie and her longing for and eventual change from child to adult.

Striving for Independence

Connie has few positive opinions about her family. According to Connie, June is "plain and chunky," her mother is a gullible nag and gossip, and her father "didn't bother talking much to them."

Connie longs to be out of her parents' "asbestos ranch house" to do as she pleases without the confinements of home. Yet she is young and inexperienced, still very much a part of her family, and thus exhibits two sides of herself: "one for home and one for anywhere that was not home." The side Connie wants to explore is her sexuality—not at home. After watching movies and listening to music, Connie wants to experience love and sexuality as she understands them from such fiction.

When Connie leaves her parents' home for an evening out, she ends up in the company of boys. Connie is interested in not just one, but in "all the boys ... dissolved into a single face ... not even a face but an idea." Connie is not clear on what she wants sexually. Her ventures out of her house include spending a few hours with a boy in a restaurant and an alley. Ultimately Connie ends up back at home, where she dreams of what it would be like not to be there.

This dream makes the story's ending an example of situational irony. Connie seemingly gets what she wants, as she will be leaving her parents' house, presumably forever, with an older admirer. The incongruity between her expectations and the reality of the event demonstrates situational irony in that the character gets what she thinks she wants, but it is not. Arnold Friend's grip on her is much tighter than her parents', and he is not the boy of Connie's dreams.

Fantasy and Reality

Connie is a dreamer. At the beginning of the story, the reader learns Connie's "mind was all filled with trashy daydreams." These come from the music Connie listens to and the movies she watches. She is convinced these media present life as it should be. Because Connie knows the song lyrics and films, she considers herself informed about the ways of the world.

While Connie's mother praises June for being steady and responsible, Connie views her older sister as clueless, whereas she herself, with her shopping plaza experience, is far wiser. Connie recalls an experience with a boy and how sweet it was, "not ... like June would suppose but ... the way it was in movies and ... songs." Her experience in these areas is of course limited, but Connie does not realize how limited.

Arnold Friend, however, forces reality on Connie. His view of sexuality does not involve hamburgers and cokes and parking in an alley before heading home. Arnold Friend expects and demands sex from her. He speaks frankly when he describes what he will do with Connie. His explicit sexual talk shocks her as she tries to block out his words. The reality of a complete sexual relationship is thrown in Connie's face, and she is not ready for it.

Like Connie, although on a different level, Arnold Friend mixes fantasy and reality. He describes the relationship he foresees for himself and Connie in loving terms as if it will be consensual. Arnold Friend also peppers his conversation with song lyrics as if they were reality. However, everything about him is fraudulent, from his appearance to his age to his intentions. Arnold Friend is a psychopath who does not have a grip on reality.

Loss of Innocence

Connie is 15 and very much a self-absorbed adolescent caught up in her looks, obtaining material items, clashing with her parents, and trying to explore the world. She is also naive and unable to appreciate her parents' values.

Connie's naiveté is most apparent in her own sexuality. Connie has formed her opinions from the songs she listens to and the movies she watches. She plays the game, as she understands it, when she goes to the drive-in restaurant. She dresses up and finds a boy to spend time with. Connie cannot get over "how sweet it always was." Connie is not in love and seems to experiment tentatively with the boys she meets. She is in love with being pretty and receiving attention.

Arnold Friend tries to pass himself off as a boy, but it is soon obvious to Connie that he is a full-grown man. He wants sex and is explicit in his desires and plans for her. The thought of sex with him overwhelms and terrifies Connie. She succumbs to him out of fear that he will harm her family if she doesn't go with him. As she does, she knows she has left her "home self" behind and is about to experience a violent initiation into sex—one that might end in her death.

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