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In the short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, Joyce Carol Oates demonstrates the struggle one may experience when trying to define their identity. Connie is a fifteen year old girl who uses her family and society’s judgement to stipulate her emotions. When Connie matures in the real world, she is entirely lost and allows her fate to control her actions. As a result, Connie creates numerous personalities because she is unable to identify who she really is; Connie acts languid and childish at home, but she acts grown up around her friends. Connie’s behavior leads Arnold Friend to manipulate her love for him. In response, Connie realizes that she must show her maturity when she takes control of the situation she is stuck in and faces the consequences of her actions. As Connie fights to win her battle, she finally gives up because she knows there is no other path. In the end, Connie’s confrontation with reality causes her to construct the person she wants to be. Throughout the story, Oates emphasizes Connie’s view on life, but she is unable to control her emotions. Connie’s lack of identity forces her to create a persona that ultimately leads to her death.
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As Connie begins to mature into adulthood, she uses her family’s views and the outside world to influence her behavior. Throughout Connie’s childhood, her dysfunctional family and the society she lives in constantly dehumanizes Connie, so she is forced to seek her true identity. As a result, Connie feels the urge to pursue her individual journey away from all the judgement, for instance, how her “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… [her], but around his bent head Connie’s mother kept picking at her until Connie wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over” (Oates 158). Connie’s relationship with her family causes her to see the destructive side in her life. Her father is an independent man who does not have a personal connection with Connie, while her mother is a jealous human being who constantly compares Connie to her older sister, June; Connie’s mother cannot accept how her beauty diminished. In response, Connie’s experiences with her family and society cause her emotions to produce her various personalities. At home, Connie is an innocent girl who sees no purpose for herself, but she is an energetic adolescent who seeks attention when she is away from her disfirming family. Oates illustrates how Connie’s character diverges to have:
two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head; her mouth, which was pale and smirking most of the time, but bright and pink on these evenings out; her laugh, which was cynical and drawling at home– “Ha, ha, very funny”–but highpitched and nervous anywhere else, like the jingling of the charms on her bracelet. (158-159)
At this moment, Connie is unable to define who she really is because of the lack of support she is given. In response, Connie feels that maturing can help her escape the reality she lives in. However, Oates illustrates the space between Connie’s youth and adulthood; it seems as if Connie is struggling to comprehend the proper steps into becoming an adult. Connie’s two-sided personality is a direct response of her deficiency of family and society assistance.
Connie’s desperate necessity for the attention of boys helps her escape from the society she lives in and allows Connie to erect her character. When Connie first enters the outside world, she constantly worries about her external features and the ability to seek attention from boys. In addition, Connie believes that her beauty is the only gift she has: “Connie would raise her eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look right through her mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment, she knew she was pretty and that was everything” (158). Even though Connie’s mom criticizes her beauty, Connie continues to focus her picture with defining her identity and morale. When Arnold Friend arrives at Connie’s house, her immediate response is to check herself in a mirror; Connie’s self- consciousness is the factor that attracts guys like, Arnold Friend. As Connie looks through the screen door at Arnold Friend “She recognize[s] most things about him, the tight jeans that showed his thighs and buttocks and the greasy leather boots and the tight shirt, and even that slippery friendly smile of his, that sleepy dreamy smile that all the boys used to get across ideas they didn’t want to put into words” (164). At this moment, Connie sees Arnold Friend as a compelling character that she could potentially become close to; Connie examines Arnold and seems to have a slight interest in him because she assumes that a relationship with a man who loves her will allow Connie to understand her identity. Throughout Connie’s journey in life, Oates illustrates that Connie’s narcissism and her involvement with boys plays a major role in the process of stipulating her identity.
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Even though Connie is confident in her actions, her inconsiderate presence forces Connie to face consequences that eventually lead to her death. As Connie becomes closer to Arnold, she begins to understand the world she lives in and knows that Arnold’s goal is to manipulate her into loving him. When Arnold Friend offers Connie a chance to break free from the past, he says, “Yes, I’m your lover. You don’t know what that is but you will,” he said, “I know that too, I know all about you. But look: its’ real nice and you couldn’t ask for nobody better than me, or more polite. I always keep my word (166). Arnold’s only intention right now is to establish Connie’s integrity through his deceiving words; he knows how to mislead Connie’s emotions and force her to give up. Even though Connie dreams of having a relationship, she has a strong feeling that being close to Arnold could end up jeopardizing her. As Connie realizes that she is stuck in a situation that ultimately could lead to her death, she begins to consternate: “She cried out, she cried for her mother, she felt her breath start jerking back and forth in her lungs as if it were something Arnold Friend was stabbing her with again and again with no tenderness” (169). The only thing Connie can do to defend herself right now is scream for her mother in hope for her to respond; Connie is too mentally beat down to stand up for herself. Even though Arnold continues to threaten Connie both physically and mentally, she decides to walk out to him: “She watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were back safe somewhere in the other doorway, watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited” (171). At this moment, Connie has officially given up on herself because she knows that she has no other choice. In the end, Connie’s confrontation with Arnold Friend makes Connie regret her past experiences in society and with her family. As a result, Connie is left to face her consequences through the dark side of reality.
Connie’s indiscreet attitude towards life causes her to see the negative side of reality that eventually leads to her death. (I could not think of a strong topic sentence for the conclusion). Before Connie’s death, she is left to determine her future without knowing her identity. This lack of knowledge causes Connie to feel the need to create different personalities in order to be accepted by others. However, both her family and society continue to misplace her character. As a result, Connie desperately searches to find attention from boys to depend on, but is left in confusion when she meets Arnold Friend. Arnold Friend is a representation of the evil side of society that takes advantage of ignorant girls, like Connie, who are unable to understand their purpose in life. His only goal is to control Connie’s emotions and create a personality that best suits her. Through Connie’s encounterment with Arnold, Oates informs his audience of the repercussions an individual can face when trying to find their identity.
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