Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been As An Allegorical Story
In Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” Connie, the protagonist, is a fifteen-year-old beautiful teenager who is infatuated with her looks constantly “craning her neck to glance into mirrors” (Oates 126). Her concerns are typically adolescent: she fixates on her looks, listens to music, hangs out with her friends, flirts with boys, and explores her sexuality. Connie tries her best to appear mature with clothes and boys, but no matter how hard she may try, she is not as mature as she would like to believe she is. Though Connie takes pleasure in a lifestyle filled with appearances and boys, little does she know that all her conceitedness and immaturity will bring her danger. This kind of danger appears in the form of a stranger named Arnold Friend.
Arnold Friend, the antagonist, makes a grand entrance at Connie’s house one day in his “bright gold” convertible, but beyond his ostentatious car, his appearance is mediocre (Oates 129). Oates describes him as a man with “shaggy, shabby black hair that looked crazy as a wig”, a nose that was “long and hawklike”, an unshaved face, and being the size of “only an inch taller than Connie” (Oates 129-130). Despite his strange appearance, Connie finds Arnold somewhat appealing. He is an older, highly sexualized man who bulldozes his way into her life offering her an opportunity to be whisked away. To Connie, Arnold is unlike any boy or man she has ever encountered, which intrigues her. However, any appealing qualities Connie may have found within Arnold dissipates once he begins to make threats and demands. He welcomes fear when he claims to know things about her family and neighbors that he could not possibly know, which calls the reality or humanness of his character into question. Although it is never revealed who or what Arnold is, what is for certain is the fact that he is the catalyst that changes Connie from a child to an adult through drastic and violent means. Through biographical, scholarly, and popular essays, Joyce Carol Oates’s dark and eye-opening short story “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” is manifested. First, Jessica Bomarito’s “Gothic Literature: A Gale Critical Companion” is a biographical novel of Joyce Carol Oates’s life shedding light on her upbringing as well as her unique writing style. According to Bomarito, an acquisition editor for Gale, Oates was born in Lockport, New York, and was raised on her “grandparents’ farm in Erie County” where she found her passion for writing (Bomarito 163). As a result, Oates uses her small-town insights to not only create her characters but the settings of her fiction as well. In “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?”, the setting takes place in a small town in the 1960s filled with characters who reside in a close-knit environment similar to what Oates grew up with. Bomarito then goes on to acknowledge how Oates’s writing style “concentrates on the spiritual, sexual, and intellectual malaise of modern American culture” and mentions how she exposes “the dark aspects of the human condition” (Bomarito 163). This can be confirmed by taking a look at the story and its themes. In “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?”, Oates delves into themes such as Connie’s exploration of her sexuality, the violence Arnold brings into her life, and the independence Arnold gives Connie by freeing her from her life.
Second, the scholarly research presented in Mike Tierce and John Michael Crafton’s critical essay “Connie’s Tambourine Man: A New Reading of Arnold Friend” reinterprets previous critical characterizations of the story’s antagonists, Arnold Friend. In the past, critics have argued that Arnold is portrayed as an evil character and symbolizes Satan. While others assert that Arnold is a savior who has come to rescue Connie. Tierce and Crafton, on the other hand, believe that it is most likely that Arnold is the “personification of popular music, particularly Bob Dylan’s music” (Tierce and Crafton 224). Throughout the critical essay, the authors draw parallels between Arnold and folksinger Bob Dylan. The essay starts by suggesting that there are similarities between Arnold and Bob Dylan’s physical appearances. The way Oates physically describes Arnold are all characteristics of Bob Dylan. From the “shaggy, shabby black hair” and “long and hawklike nose” to the way he speaks “in a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting the words to a song” (Tierce and Crafton 221). In addition, the reference to Bob Dylan’s song “Mister Tambourine Man” implies another connection between Arnold and Dylan. In Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”, he sings lyrics such as “take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship” which is parallel to Arnold’s gold convertible (Tierce and Crafton 224). When Arnold pulls up to Connie’s driveway, she notices the phrase “man the flying saucers” sprawled out onto his car. Simply put, Arnold Friend is a musical messiah and a manifestation of Connie’s own desires. This figment of her imagination “frees her from the limitations of a fifteen-year-old girl” and matures her by stripping her of her childlike vision” (Tierce and Crafton 224).
Third, Nicole Holeman’s article for Inquiries Journal entitled “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue: Psychoanalyzing Connie in Joyce Carol Oates’s ‘Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?’” is an in-depth analysis of Connie and how she suffers from low self-esteem and fear of intimacy. It would be an understatement to say that Connie has many issues. In the story, Connie experiences problems with her family, boys, and friends. First, Holeman, a Florida State University alum with a concentration in Editing, Writing, and Media, states how for Connie, being beautiful means everything to her, and without it, she would feel worthless. This could be inferred by observation of her having a “habit of always needing to bolster the knowledge that she is beautiful” (Holeman). The need to always be told how beautiful she is posing a problem because it leaves her vulnerable to the will of others. Especially since her low self-esteem requires Connie to have a constant need of affirmation of how beautiful she is. In addition, along with low self-esteem, Connie suffers from a fear of intimacy. There are countless examples where Connie shows her fear of intimacy throughout the story. With boys, Connie meets frequently with them, but there is never any indication that she is interested or even willing to see any of them for more than one night. Instead of being committed to one boy, she prefers to toy with all of them. Furthermore, Connie’s relationship with her friend seems to be rather unusual. There only seems to be one friend Connie hangs out with regularly and that is only because the friend’s father gives the girls a ride without questioning them.
By not creating any “true connections”, Connie can distance herself from others (Holeman).
In my own literary argument on this coming-of-age and realistic allegoric short story, I intend to uncover the theme of reality versus fantasy. This will be done by analyzing the characterizations of Connie and Arnold both separately and together. I will also investigate what aspects of the story are real as well as which ones are just a figment of Connie’s imagination. Joyce Carol Oates could be considered as one of the most prolific and versatile contemporary American writers due to Oates never being one to shy away from sensitive themes. Writing in a dense and elliptical style, Oates’s fiction exposes the tragic parts of the human condition and concentrates on the violence and abuse between the sexes. “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” is a timeless and unforgettable piece of literature that digs into the sexual awakening of a romantic girl by a mysterious man.
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