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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Joyce Carol Oates

Important Quotations Explained

The Facts behind the Fiction

How to Cite This SparkNote

1. Everything about her had 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 . . . but high-pitched and nervous anywhere else . . .

This quotation appears near the beginning of the story and explains the two-sidedness of Connie. At home, Connie appears childish, but away from home, she strives to appear sexy, mature, and seductive. For the most part, her two sides seem to exist in harmony. She argues with her mother and sister at home, but otherwise her transition from child to woman and back again seems to happen effortlessly. However, the fact that Connie has two sides rather than one stable, fully developed personality highlights the awkward, fearful stage she is in as an adolescent. Throughout the story, we see that she is unsure of who she really is—what is actually her and what is a fabricated image of who she wants to be. Her confident smirk and laugh at home give way to a more uncertain, giggly laugh and girly, pink mouth—which actually make her seem more immature. The gap between her former self and new, adult self is uncertain and dangerous. When Arnold Friend appears, he exploits it.

2. 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.

This quotation appears near the end of the story, after Connie has lunged for the phone and tried and failed to make a call. Arnold has repeatedly assured her that he won’t come inside the house unless she touches the telephone, which, until this moment, has deterred Connie from trying to call the police. However, after Arnold’s remarks become more overtly sexual and threatening, she panics and makes a move for the phone, which she is then too terrified to do anything with. These violent, explicit lines strongly suggest that Arnold has entered the house and is raping Connie—the “stabbing” and “no tenderness,” as well as her extreme distress, all suggest that this violent moment is a rape.

However, Oates does not state explicitly that Arnold has raped Connie. A few lines later, it seems that Arnold is at the door again, once more trying to get her to come outside. In these lines, a literal reading reveals that it is her breath that is stabbing her lungs. Nothing in “Where Are You Going . . .” is black or white—is Arnold a dream? A demon? A psychopath?—and what actually “happens” in this scene is beside the point. The point is that Connie has faced danger and has not come away unscathed. Her life has irrevocably changed, and her future looks bleak. The menacing closing scene, with Connie opening the door to go to Arnold, strongly suggests that if bad things have happened, there are worse things to come; and if bad things have not yet happened, then they surely will.

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