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Joyce Carol Oates dedicated “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” to Bob Dylan, and she has claimed that the story was influenced by Dylan’s haunting song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” The story contains echoes of the song’s lyrics, such as the following: “The vagabond who’s rapping at your door / Is standing in the clothes that you once wore / Strike another match, go start anew / And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.” Many aspects of Dylan himself are mirrored in the figure of Arnold Friend. With their wild hair and short statures, Dylan and Arnold are physical doubles; but more significant is how each man is perceived. In the 1960s, Dylan was considered by many young people to be somehow otherworldly—even a sort of messiah figure. In the story, Arnold Friend is a darker version of this type of figure. He has come to take Connie away, and she is ultimately powerless to defy him. At one point, Connie observes that Arnold’s voice sounds like the voice of the radio DJ, Bobby King. The DJ’s first name is a link to Dylan’s first name, and the DJ’s involvement in the music world evokes Dylan’s.
Oates’s evocation of Bob Dylan is purposeful, adding richness to the story’s setting, particularly the time period in which it takes place. In the 1960s, when Oates wrote “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” a social revolution was happening. American women were asserting their rights and independence from men, and they were claiming their sexuality in a way they had never done before. One frequently discussed topic was adolescence and the struggles and anxieties that many young girls endured as they lost their sexual innocence and became adult women. Feeling undervalued in their homes and relationships with men, women questioned their role in society and the role that sex and gender played in their lives. In “Where Are You Going Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Oates explores this social upheaval in miniature: Connie, one young woman out of a country of young women, must confront her own questions and anxieties as she transitions into adulthood. Her separation from her home and family is violent, and Arnold Friend is by no means a savior. But the sense of sweeping, dramatic change taking place in 1960s America is evident in this story, from the period details to Connie’s psychological terror at what lies ahead.