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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Joyce Carol Oates

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Connie

Connie rejects the role of daughter, sister, and “nice” girl to cultivate her sexual persona, which flourishes only when she is away from her home and family. She makes fun of her frumpy older sister, June, and is in constant conflict with her family. Her concerns are typically adolescent: she obsesses about her looks, listens to music, hangs out with her friends, flirts with boys, and explores her sexuality. She takes great pleasure in the fact that boys and even men find her attractive. Connie has cultivated a particular manner of dressing, walking, and laughing that make her sexually appealing, although these mannerisms are only temporary affectations. She behaves one way in her home and an entirely different way when she is elsewhere. Her personality is split, and when she is at home, her sexuality goes into hiding. However, Arnold Friend’s arrival at her house forces her two sides to merge violently. In a way, Connie is not fully sexual until Arnold’s intrusion into her home—until then, her sexuality was something outside of her “true” self, the self that she allowed her family to see.

Connie works hard to prove her maturity, but despite her efforts with clothes and boys, she is not as mature as she would like to believe she is. She desperately wants to be attractive to older men, but once an older man—Arnold—actually pays her explicit sexual attention, she is terrified. She knows little about reality or what adulthood actually entails, preferring to lose herself in the rosy ideas of romance that her beloved pop songs promote. When Arnold appears at her house, she tries to seem in control and unfazed, but she eventually breaks down and is overpowered by him. In her moments of terror, she proves herself to be childlike: she calls out for her mother.

Arnold Friend

Arnold Friend, with his suggestive name that hints at “Arch Fiend,” is an ambiguous figure who may be either demon or human, fantasy or reality. Arnold makes a grand entrance at Connie’s house in his gold convertible, but beyond his ostentatious car, his appearance is less than impressive. Indeed, he looks strange enough to suggest that he has mental problems or is even somehow otherworldly. He wears mirrored sunglasses, has translucent skin, and has hair that is so wild that it looks like a wig. When he walks, he wobbles, as though his shoes don’t fit properly. Some critics suggest that his unsteadiness hints at the possibility that his feet are actually hooves, as the devil would have. Demon or not, however, his strangely mismatched appearance adds to the threatening quality of his calm voice and seemingly gentle coaxing as he tries to convince Connie to come outside.

Despite his strange appearance, Arnold is initially somewhat appealing to Connie in a dangerous way. He is an older, highly sexualized man who offers to take her away from her life as an unhappy teenager. He is incredibly different from Connie’s family and the other boys she knows, which intrigues her. However, any appealing mystery to Arnold quickly dissipates as he begins to make threats and demands. He invites fear rather than attraction when he claims to know things about her family and neighbors that he couldn’t possibly know, which calls the reality or humanness of his character into question. Although we never find out exactly who or what Arnold is, he is the catalyst that changes Connie from a child to an adult—albeit through drastic, violent means.

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