The Evils of Man in Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

Joyce Carol Oates’ short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” begins as coming of age story and a reflection of life in the middle of the twentieth century, but it quickly evolves into a harsh tale that portrays the ignorance of young girls and the evils of men.

Connie is described to portray the archetypical girl of 1960’s America, but the reader never knows her last name. This allows her character to represent any girl and can be formed to fit anyone the reader knows. She is beautiful and young, but she leads a double life. “Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home”(1). Her life is an exaggerated form of teenage years, she acts childish at home to keep her parents from prying into her life and then acts overly promiscuous when out with friends to feel more adult.

Oates shows that Connie feels she has absolute power over the boys she dates, but in fact she is weak to peer pressure and the desire to appear beautiful in front of others. When she firsts sees the boy in the gold car, she feels as if she has control over him because he stares at her, but she “couldn’t help glancing back”(2) and dismisses his foreshadowing comment “Gonna get you, baby”(2).

The story changes pace and tone when Connie first hears the car coming up her gravel road and is “startled”(3). She makes quick fearful actions as the car approaches, which seem uncharacteristic in contrast to her controlled actions earlier in the story. Connie is caught off her guard because she is not used to acting at home like she does when she is out with friends; she starts off strong when she asks ‘“Who the hell do you think you are?”(3) But her façade quickly fades as the boy weaves his smug remarks around her defenses.

Arnold Friend is described to be evil in appearance and action. His ironic name generalizes his actions for all males, but he is not a “friend,” his intentions are evil. He is described in an animal fashion, his “nose long and hawklike, sniffing as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up”(5). To some extent his appearance is almost devilish. It was “…as if he were smiling from inside a mask. His whole face was a mask…”(8). A strange aspect of Arnold’s appearance his the way he walks, almost as if “his feet did not go all the way down”(9). Commonly in Christian tales, the devil is described as having hooves. Arnold seems to have the qualities of a short, hoofed, devil trying to appear human; he paints his face, wears shoes to make him appear taller and wears pants that make him appear thinner. Arnold’s strong commands dominate Connie with ease and when he threatens her from the porch, his evil tricks seem to be a magnified verbal version of spousal abuse. He is an archetypical evil male.

On the final page Connie feels as if nothing “belonged to her”(11). She is completely demoralized by Arnold, he knows how to manipulate her and she cannot fight his will. Connie surrenders to male desire and the reader can only assume that she is taken away and raped – or worse. She blocks off all feeling in the final paragraph and seems to leave her body as to not endure the physical punishment that is to come. Connie can only see “the vast sunlight reaches of the land behind him”(11); her body is not hers. Connie becomes an adult by leaving behind the security of her home. As she faces the real threat of male dominance, she seems to sacrifice her childhood innocence to become an adult, but it is not an exciting moment for her, it is full of evil. She is no longer a child, but the reader will never know if she became a woman.

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Comments 1 comment

jeni 8 years ago

i found this site helpful. thank you, i'm writing a paper myself on the foreshadowing in this story.

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