Oates Assignment: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

When I read the story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” for the first time, I was confused by its ending. It seemed illogical to me that a strange man comes to the house of a young girl and mentally pushes her to go and have sexual relations with him. When Joyce Oates described in details the everyday life of Connie, her exaggerated interest in beauty and bad relations with the family, I thought it might be a short story about banal teenage problems. However, the unexpected description of this “banal problem” shocked me.

In Koumarianos’s response there is a hint that Arnold Friend is not just a person. It is a generalized character of the cruel reality of grown-up people that surrounds teenage girls. It can also be considered to be a stereotypical image of a man from a rotten society, who thinks that a beautiful woman has nothing to propose the others except of her pretty face, youth and virginity in case of Connie.

Koumarianos also writes about cruel society that is formed by her mother, who envies her daughter’s beauty, her father, who is always at work, her sister, who is not that pretty and so envies Connie too. In my opinion, the situation is slightly exaggerated both by the author of the story and by the author of the response. The situation where even the mother envies the beauty of her daughter is not normal at all and I hope that the majority of parents do not behave this way with their children.

The description of rivalry between the elder sister and the younger one might be closer to reality in this case. Though, the two sisters do not communicate at all in the story. Connie likes to pass her free time with friends in a drive-in restaurant. She dresses up provocatively when she goes there and so it is natural that men are paying her certain attention and it is not the desire to fall romantically in love with her. An interesting fact is that no one at home knows that their teenage Connie is doing all these things. It is possible to blame her mother who was too busy criticizing the girl instead of giving her the right education. Koumarianos in the response notes that it is the mother who failed the bringing up process.

It seems to me that an elder sister has more influence on the girl’s worldview than her mother, because she is much younger. They have similar problems and if they really want to communicate, they might find a way to do it. Though, the elder “good, “steady” and homely sister does not want to make a step towards the younger one and that is why the situation becomes critique in the end.

Connie is paying attention to exterior rather than to the interior. She is always looking in the mirror, she is obsessed with her looks, she pays attention to the music from the car of a strange man and to the way he is dressed up. There is an evident shift of accents in the girl’s world view. In does not seem strange that a man comes to her house when she is alone and wants to rape her. People from the crowd like to say that if a man has raped a woman, it was her fault, because she provoked him by her sexual looks. I have heard this idea for several times and it is really horrifying, just like the second part of the story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. The situation might strike the readers’ imagination if it was nothing but a post-modern story with a social background. The problem is that the truth prevails in the description of this social background and the dark colors of emotions become even more concentrated after reading it.

Oates’ story is has an interesting name. When I read it in the beginning I thought it would be a short melancholic sketch, where someone is longing for his or her beloved person and they will never meet. Or, perhaps, this person died and the lovers might embrace each other only in their second reincarnation, where they might meet. However, the truth turned out to be less romantic than I expected. These two questions “Where Are You Going?” and “Where Have You Been?” are usually asked by parents, who do not actually control the lives of their teenage children, but they still do not want to lose their control and who think that these questions might discipline their girls and boys. These questions are also a sign of a deep destruction many families undergo. The exterior, the formality is saved, but the core does not exist – there is no real interest what other people in the family are doing. Connie’s mother, sister, father and even her numerous aunts feel comfortable and calm, when nothing extraordinary happens. Until there are no evident signs that mean “Connie is in danger!”, no one tries to solve the problem of her alienation from her relatives.

A polish writer Edward Yashinsky once wrote: “Fear not your enemies, for they can only kill you. Fear not your friends, for they can only betray you. Fear only the indifferent, who permit the killers and betrayers to walk safely on the earth.” (1) That day when a strange man Arnold Friend came to the house of Connie, the surrounding atmosphere was filled with indifference. She could not ring her relatives, she could not run away to her neighbors, she even could not cry to attract someone’s attention to her problem. The author does not describe the end of the story, what happened to Connie that day. Though, it is not necessary, because the message, that indifferent society might soon kill every naïve child, was conveyed.


(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.iwise.com/Yjete

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