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“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates gives us an example of Realism and the issues of duality that face us as we transition from the world of youth into the adult world. It is a ‘coming-of-age’ story that shows the two sides of a girl named Connie, whose views are feelings are shaped by her family experiences and the society around her. This causes her personality to literally be split into two.
In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Joyce Carol Oates shows that as we grow the make-up of our personality is created by outer conditions. This is apparent in the internal conflicts of Connie, the central character of the story. She is a fifteen-year-old girl who demonstrates the confused and often superficial behavior that is typical of a teenage girl as she faces the complex changes into womanhood. Connie is preoccupied with her looks, music, and boys. She takes on numerous roles and is uncertain as to which is the real her, “Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home” (482). She has an unstable relationship with her family, which is the main cause for her identity conflict. She acts as if she were an innocent child that is not concerned with things such as the opposite sex while at home with her family. However, once she is released into “real world” she searches carelessly with her friends for male attention, making herself a willing victim to boys. Connie’s duality can plainly be seen in the way she dresses depending on the role she takes on. “She wore a pull-over jersey blouse that looked one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home” (482). Connie believes in day-dream love with many different boys “sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs” (484). None of the boys stand out as special to her “all the boys fell back and dissolved into a single face, not even a face, but an idea” (483). She still is in search of her identity beyond that of her looks, “She knew she was pretty and that was everything” (481).
Arnold Friend, at first glance, is “a boy with shaggy, black hair, in a convertible jalopy painted gold”(483). He changes his appearance to draw Connie to him by seaming younger than he actually is. He makes himself into the idea that she holds in her mind. He manipulates Connie by using informal conversation as a way to gain emotional control of her. Arnold is fully aware of Connie’s sensitive and naÃ¯ve nature at this time in her young life. He uses words such as “love” and promises her his respect and loyalty in his attempt to make her willingly leave with him. Arnold offers Connie what she has wanted and craved for the most, to feel pretty and wanted by someone. Arnold can offer her something her parents have not been able to. He gives her the opportunity to break out of the world she feels trapped in turn finally be able to define who she is. Arnold Friend has no real true identity but he creates one for Connie’s benefit as a youthful lover there for her. This is what she often dreams about through the lyrics in the music she listens to. His clothes, car, taste in music, and way that he speaks reflect the current teenager. He appeals to the psychological and social confusion that is such a difficult period in Connie’s life right now.
Connie wants to be free from the ties that define her relationships with her family. She wants to rebel just for the sake of rebelling. She is too young to fully understand everything going on around her, primarily the fact that it is in her best interest to stay away from random bad boys whom she knows nothing about. Arnold Friend is a bad boy who wants her and seems to be obsessed with her. Even though Connie may love the thought of the adventure, she senses that being with Arnold will put her in danger. When she rejects his invitations, he threatens her safety and her family’s safety as well. Connie may hold resentment towards her family, but it is her bond with them that in the end forces her to leave with Arnold rather than see them harmed. Connie’s thoughts before leaving were “I’m not going to see my mother again” “I’m not going to sleep in my bed again” (492). Connie ultimately surrenders to Arnold who is awaiting her with open arms. The story ends with Connie leaving her front porch and her ultimate fate is left unknown.
“Where Are You Going, Where Have you Been?” shows the main character, Connie, going into a new uncertain future. She grows throughout the story from a shallow and absentminded teenage girl into a rational woman. The first part of the story deals with Connie’s life as a young and careless teenager. Her attitudes and behavior towards her family as well as her behavior around her friends are characteristic of a young child flirting with the issues of the adult world. The encounter with Arnold Friend causes her to grow up quickly, take responsibility for her situation that has resulted from her previous actions, and face the mean and tough reality of life.
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