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.