Have you ever had a nightmare that is so realistic it speeds up your heart rate and takes your very breath away? In Joyce Carol Oates’s 1966 “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? “, she tells a story of a teenager by the name of Connie. Connie has a fate of being kidnapped by a strange man that seems to know everything about her. Connie is a typical adolescent with a vivid imagination and a difficult, unstructured home. She is at a delicate time in her life of transitioning to find her “own” identity.
Temptation is all around Connie and she allows herself to be consumed, somewhat obsessed with it. Connie’s history of unhealthy relationships, cravings for love, and over active imagination creates a nightmare so horrific that we can only hope it scares her into make the right choices. In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ” it is logical to conclude that Connie has a troublesome home life. Her relationship with her mother is strained and there is little to no relationship with her father. The story immediately opens with Connie being scolded by her mother.
Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you’re so pretty? ” she would say, Connie would raise her eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look right through her mother” (1/16) “… if Connie’s name was mentioned it was disapproving”(4/16) This text alone gives a clear view into the toxic relationship with Connie and her mother. Connie is so use to the ridicule and criticism, that her natural defense mechanism allows her to ignore the hurtful comments. However, the negative comments sometimes become so overwhelming, that Connie wishes for the demise of her mother nd herself.
“Connie’s mother kept picking at her until Connie wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over. ” (2/16) This relationship is clearly unhealthy with the woman that should be her first role model, her mother. It is believed that a daughter’s “first love” is her father, and that every child should have a strong male role model in their life. Contrary to belief, Connie’s father has limited to no influence on her or the household. He is not involved with them and has no interest to be.
The story states that, “Their father was away at work most of the time and when he came home he wanted supper and he read the newspaper at supper and after supper he went to bed. He didn’t bother talking much to them” (2/16) So Connie is living in a home, where she has only negative feedback from her mother and little to no correspondences with her father. The proper balance of a “family structure” is nonexistent. A popular critic, A. R. Coulthard states, “Connie’s father doesn’t care where she’s been”, “her mother … takes only a perfunctory interest in where she’s going. “She just doesn’t care. ” (237)
The only outlet Connie has is when she retreats within herself, to her intense daydreams and fantasies of “what life could be”. Connie is at a crucial point where she is looking for guidance. A. R. Coulthard refers to Connie as a “pathetic teenager who isn’t being reared very well. ” (237) But I believe, Connie is searching for love, attention, and acceptance in all the wrong places. A period of adolescence is commonly known as a time of puberty (where the hormones are going wild), curiosity, and some possible rebellion to authority figures.
It adolescence) could also be referred to as a bridge from childhood to adulthood. This bridge is one that Connie is psychologically trying to cross. Larry Rubin describes Connie by saying, “we experience her (Connie) as a somewhat childish and silly narcissistic adolescent” (231), while A. R. Coulthard describes the same character by saying, “Connie’s problem is that she has no sexual fear, uncertainty, or guilt, not even repressed form. ” (237) The two scholars prove how difficult transitioning can be by escribing the same character, with such different points of view, from totally opposite ends of the spectrum. Throughout the story, there are several examples of Connie’s struggle between “who she is” and “who she wants to become”.
The story states “Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home:” (3/16) There’s a point, Connie feels guilty about lying to her parents about where she was going, “Her mother was so simple, Connie thought, that it was maybe cruel to fool her so much. (4/16) but moments later she is fantasizing about boys “Connie spent around the house… dreaming about the boys she met. ” (4/16). Connie is mentally all over the place, as if she has a personality disorder, but she has her hormones to thank for that. Through her beauty she finds popularity and fulfills her acceptance issues with her peers. She is guided by the music of the times and the only thing left unfulfilled is the fantasy of romance. This creates room for her romance vacancy to be fulfilled in a horrific way in her nightmares.
Connie’s “trashy daydreams” (2/16) and curious fantasies ultimately triumph her mind. One summer day, when Connie is left alone, her dreams get the best of her and shows her a terrifying fate. Her mind creates this horrifying character, Arnold Friend, who knows all and coerce her to what she believes is her “end”. The stranger, Arnold, is an older male that wants to take Connie on a ride and is hell-bent on being her lover. When Connie refuses, he threatens her family and eventually Connie gives into Arnold.
Harold Hurley and Mark Roberson describe Arnold as a pedophile character that wants to rape and murder Connie. Mark Robson states, “Both Judges 19 and Genesis 19 deal with sexual perverts, so the indication is that Arnold, as the devil, is also some kind of sexual deviant. ” (230) Harold states, “Arnold Friend is simply the sick killer who is going to murder her” (238) The two scholars are looking at the events as physically happening, when indeed, Arnold is a representation of all of Connie’s conflicts with temptation.
Arnold is presented as an older man because there is not a strong male figure in Connie’s life. Statistics show that when a person feels as if they are missing something, they’ll fulfill it elsewhere. Arnold’s age is symbolic to Connie’s missing connection/relationship with her father. In the nightmare, Arnold’s determination to be her lover stems from Connie’s sexual curiosity and longing for the love of another being (preferably from the opposite sex).
Arnold knowing “all” is not because he’s the devil (as Robson suggest), but because he is a part of Connie’s psyche. That is why Arnold’s knowledge is equivalent to things Connie would know. The whole interaction between Connie and Arnold is a premonition of what would happen if Connie gives into her sexual curiosity. The representation of”going for a ride never to return” is about her crossing the line of her losing her virginity. It’s not necessarily “death of her” but it is “death of her innocence”. That is something that she will never be able to get back.
It’s just like how the interaction started with Arnold,”curious” and somewhat “amusing”, but the hard reality of the matter is it quickly turned “frightening”, “realistic”, and “overwhelming”. “She thought, I’m not going to see my mother again. She thought, I’m not going to sleep in my bed again. ” (15/16) In this statement Connie is subconsciously thinking of the consequences of her actions if she “goes for a ride” with Arnold (gives into temptation). This is a reference to her parent’s disapproval and possible punishment, if they find out what she has done.
I personally believe Oates was inspired heavily by the real events of the time when she wrote “Where Have You Been, Where Are You Going? “, however, she meant for this to be a vivid description of a “dream-like state” forewarning for Connie. There are several similarities to the real killings, which allows scholars to assume Joyce Carol Oates mimic this to Connie’s fate. Although there are striking resemblances, I still believe Connie is having a nightmare, that is a faint picture of what the future could hold, if she makes wrong choices in her life.