A short story by a prominent modern American author Joyce Carol Oates titled Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (1966) is dedicated to a disturbing topic of sexual abuse. The very event is not described, only the preliminary background is given – an exact and true-to-life short insight into the life of an adolescent. If the narrative may be considered a journey, it is definitely an exciting one, though having a very tragic ending. Connie, the protagonist, became a victim of her youth and her beauty. She just wanted to have a spectacular effect on boys of her age. But this effect turned out to have disastrous consequences: the girl attracted unwanted attention of an adult. The conflict of the story reveals itself in the scaring turn of events when a pleasant flirting conversation becomes a dangerous threatening situation. The inner struggle of Connie with her unexpected visitors, the antagonists – Ellie and Arnold – at the end acquires a quite outer, physical character. The beginning and the ending of the story are contrasted: a usual, one might even say typical outline of life of the teenager (which, by all means, presents a calm and stable overview to the reader) closer to the end develops into a tense predicament. The attitude of the girl towards her family is also a subject to change: when she is attacked by her adult guest, her only wish is for anyone to be home, even her elder sister whom she dislikes because of the plain appearance and obedience. This terrible experience made Connie change her life priorities, made her understand that the world of her dreams, adolescent tantrums and superficial joy were not the essential parts of life. The fact that even her family house – the safest place on the earth – could not keep danger off also contributes to the conflict of the short story.
A car might be considered the central image of the story. While it is generally perceived as a symbol of wealth and is deemed to reflect a social status of an owner, in this story the features it acquires are as negative as the characters of its driver and passenger. The latter is just an accomplice, while Friend is an invincible driving force. Their car is the one Connie has no wish to appreciate, as opposed to other fancy cars. Due to the ones it drives the vehicle becomes a fiend, a third culprit. Music manages to be both a background and an important part of the story. Oates was inspired by a song and dedicated her work to its author – Bob Dylan. Connie is interrupted in her idle listening to the radio by arrival of guests. Ellie holds a transistor in the car. It was the USA and it was 60’s, music was all round, tied things and people together. The writer managed to depict the importance and ubiquity of this symbol of the epoch in her short story.
The main emotion of the story is fear. As the events develop, the fear grows. Despair of the girl who has nowhere to hide and no one to be helped by is clearly palatable. Her arrogance and vanity are quite irritating at the beginning; these features become her hallmark and remain in reader’s memory after reading. But the situation Connie found herself in makes the reader forgive her initial behavior. Her feeling of emptiness at the end is also a striking detail. Both the emotion and placing make it a memorable part of the story.
Raping is, fortunately, an experience not all of us have had. But all of us have surely been teenagers and felt that awkwardness and strong desire to catch somebody’s eye, and if we managed to do that, it was as pleasant as it was for Connie. We have all been judgmental towards ourselves and people around us. We have all devoted much time to entertaining and conversations. The author herself must have referred to her teenage recollections, which enabled her to create such a story.
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? is about youth and danger. It depicts the fragileness and helplessness of the teenager’s mind. Stories about young people tend to be typical. This one is not. It raises the question of physical abuse, traumatic for everyone, especially a young person. The reader is encouraged not to make hasty conclusions (in order not to become a victim like Connie) and to pay more attention to actions. There are plenty of evil people in the world. Sometimes we can avoid them, in other cases – not. Therefore it is better always to be cautious and treat our lives more seriously. It might be a message Joyce Carol Oates intended to convey.