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“Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” was written by Joyce Carol Oates and she dedicated it to artist Bob Dylan. The story is about Connie, a fifteen-year-old girl who is described as a vain, stubborn, rebellious, and careless individual. The tragic story begins when Connie starts going out with Eddie. One night, while Connie and Eddie were out, she sees a man in a parking lot who tells her “Gonna get you, baby.” When Connie is left alone by her parents in the house, she sees a man outside and remembers him as the man she met in the parking lot. The man introduces himself as Arnold Friend and he asks Connie to go ride in the car and go with him. Connie refuses because the man is acting weird and tells her of details about her parents that mean he has been spying on her and her family. Arnold continues to persuade her with threats but Connie still refuses and tells him that she will call the police. Arnold follows her in the house and there, he stabs Connie repeatedly. Oates wrote a vague ending but it is certain that the story finishes with Connie dead. The tragic story brings about questions about the values and lessons embedded in Oates’ work. The objective in writing this analysis is to determine the factors or elements that contribute and led to Connie’s demise. Connie’s tragic end was caused by her inability to discern right from wrong, carelessness, stubbornness to get what she wants, and rebellious streak.
Symbolism in the Story
“Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” is a cautionary story that illustrates the probable outcomes of carelessness, stubbornness, and rebelliousness, especially to young teenagers who refuse to listen to their parents. Another trait that led to Connie’s tragic end is her vanity and insistence of attracting other boys’ attention by trying to look and act mature. In the beginning of the story, Connie’s mother criticized her for being vain, “Stop gawking at yourself” (Oates, 1). Connie also tries to look mature by dressing up inappropriately and acting flirty around boys. She constantly lies to her mother and sister and never told them about what she has been up to. Ultimately, her stubbornness and rebelliousness against her family led to trouble when they were supposed to attend a barbecue at her aunt’s place but she said no. Instead, Connie chose to stay at home. She preferred to be alone and think about the boy she spent the night with, “her mind slipped over onto thoughts of the boy she had been with the night before and how nice he had been” (Oates, 2) instead of spending the Sunday with her family.
However, Connie’s behavior is not entirely her fault. In the story, Oates hints errors on how Connie’s parents treat her. While Connie’s mother is harsh, her father seems detached and uncaring. Connie’s father “was away at work most of the time and when he came home… He didn’t bother talking much to them” (Oates, 1). Connie’s mother always criticizes her, “Who are you? You think you’re so pretty?” (Oates, 1) and compares her to June (Connie’s older sister), which may just be the reason why she feels insecure about herself and also feels the need to look mature. Moreover, the lack of attention from her father may be the reason why Connie feels that she has to attract the attention of boys. The ways her parents treat Connie symbolize the detrimental outcomes of bad or detached parenting to children. Moreover, this part of the story underscores the idea that the traits or characteristics of children are reflections of how they were raised by their parents. Nevertheless, Connie’s thoughts while she is danger show that no matter how she hated her parents, they are the ones she thinks of at a time of need, “She cried out, she cried for her mother, she felt her breath start jerking back and forth in her lungs as if it were something Arnold Friend was stabbing her with again and again with no tenderness” (Oates, 5).
Connie’s vanity and desire to look and act mature and attractive may also be the reason why Arnold was attracted to her in the first place. Arnold told her that the first time he saw her in the parking lot, “Seen you that night and thought, that’s the one, yes sir” (Oates, 5), which proves that carelessness attracts danger. During Connie’s confrontation with Arnold, she notices that his car is a convert jalopy painted with gold. The car that Arnold owns reflects the idea that people who we are not supposed to trust may present themselves as dazzling or attractive people. Arnold who owns a shiny car represents the type of people who charm and entice other people – wolves who hide in sheepskin – and they are the ones who take advantage of naïve, careless, and stubborn individuals.
In the story, Oates argues three important points: (a) that carelessness, stubbornness, and rebelliousness court danger, especially to young and naïve teenagers, (b) that bad parenting affects the traits and characteristics of teenagers and (c) that dishonest and devious people are usually the ones who appear to be honest or worth trusting. I agree with the three points that Oates embedded in the short story. Nowadays, it is important for parents to pay attention to their children and open lines of communication, with special focus on making sure that their children feel like they could be trusted with whatever teenagers want to say. On the other hand, teenagers must also make a conscious effort to listen to their parents. I was a teenager once and I understand that sometimes, parents seem to be the first ones to criticize and attack their children. However, teenagers must keep in mind that their parents know what is best for them. Lastly, everyone, not only teenagers, must be wary of people who pretend to be someone they are not, especially the ones who exert too much effort to be trusted because they usually are the distrustful ones who are capable of committing deviant acts.