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Literature / Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

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"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is a Short Story by Joyce Carol Oates that was first published in the Fall 1966 edition of Epoch Magazine. Since its publication, "Where Are You Going" has received a considerable amount of attention, particularly due to its ambiguous nature.

The plot itself is rather simple. Set in The '60s, the story revolves around a beautiful, rather self-absorbed 15-year-old girl named Connie who is at odds with her family as she tries to explore her budding sexuality. Unbeknownst to her family, she spends much of her free time picking up boys at a local restaurant. One evening, she captures the attention of a mysterious stranger in a gold convertible covered with cryptic writing. The next day, the stranger (along with another man) show up at Connie's house while the rest of her family is at a barbecue and calls out to her.

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Connie is initially charmed by the stranger, Arnold Friend, as he is charismatic and much more mature than the boys she's been hanging out with. Arnold tells Connie that he is 18 and has come with his friend, Ellie, to take her for a ride. As their conversation goes on, Connie slowly realizes that he is actually much older than he says he is and becomes afraid. After she refuses to leave with them, Arnold becomes much more threatening and forceful, saying that he will hurt her family if she doesn't go with them; he also reveals that he's learned a lot about Connie and her family, including where they are. From here, the story- and especially Arnold Friend himself- become much more ambiguous.


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This short story provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: And that's putting it lightly. Arnold does... something to prevent Connie from calling for help and manages to coax her outside. A terrified Connie can only look at the vast expanses of land behind him and muses that she knows it's where she's going. The story then abruptly ends.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: While we never learn what Arnold really had in mind with Connie, he did get whatever he wanted out of her at the end of the story.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Connie is a tragic example of this trope.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: The story can be interpreted this way. Arnold Friend is so uncanny and enigmatic that there's a sense that he's not a human being, but some sort of incomprehensible, predatory monstrosity from outside any understandable context masquerading as a young man.
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  • Downer Ending: In spite of how ambiguous the end is, it's clear that Arnold Friend has nothing good in store for poor Connie.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Connie's Family. Mother bitches at and about Connie to others and in front of her while secretly preferring Connie for her beauty over the obedient and plain June, June is lonely, Connie rebels, and Father spends his time working and being away from his wife and daughters.
  • Film of the Book: The story was loosely adapted into the movie Smooth Talk starring Laura Dern.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Arnold Friend. At first he appears to be very charming and amiable, but the longer Connie resists him, the more belligerent he gets.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: One interpretation of Connie's decision to leave with Arnold. After all, he did threaten to hurt her family if she didn't go with him.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Connie, before she starts to wise up the longer she talks to Arnold.
  • I Never Told You My Name: Connie's reaction when Arnold says her name.
  • I Want My Mommy!: Near the end of the story, when Connie realizes just how serious the situation she's in is, she calls out for her mother.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Part of the reason why Connie's relationship with her mother is so strained is because her mother is envious of Connie's youth and beauty, which she no longer has.
  • Louis Cypher: One of the most popular interpretations of Arnold Friend is that he is actually Satan. There are several pieces of evidence to support this claim:
    • Flies are present throughout the story. Flies are often associated with Beelzebub, Belial, and Satan.
    • The car in the story also has the words "Man the Flying Saucers" written on it, which, rearranged, spells: "Lying man, he uses craft".
    • There's something not quite right about his feet; he's wearing boots and has really bad balance, which gives some the impression that he has hooves. He either has hooves or literally no feet, since his boots bend sideways at the ankle at one point.
    • He also describes events taking place several blocks away as they're happening, in enough detail that makes it seem unlikely that he's just making it up.
  • Meaningful Name: If all the r's are taken out, "Arnold Friend" becomes "An old fiend."
  • Must Be Invited: If you ascribe to the theory that Arnold Friend is a supernatural entity, this certainly applies. Arnold never actually enters Connie's home, he just hovers near the doorway and attempts to coax (or threaten) Connie into coming out herself.
  • Nuclear Family: Connie belongs to a very typical, conventional family, as befitting of the sixties.
  • Police are Useless: Connie couldn't call them (Arnold interfered with the telephone lines) and they most likely wouldn't stand a chance against a supernatural entity who could very well be Satan himself.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Joyce Carol Oates was inspired to write the story after reading about a serial killer named Charles Schmid in an issue of Life magazine. Arnold Friend's odd appearance (wild black hair, scuffed boots, and mole) as well as his charisma are directly based off of Charles Schmid.
  • Short Story
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Connie's older sister June is frumpy, somewhat overweight, doesn't spend any time with boys, and always obeys her parents and does chores without complaining. On the other hand, Connie is beautiful, vivacious, very much interested in the opposite sex, and rebellious.
  • Sinister Shades: Arnold wears a pair of mirrored aviator shades that hide his true self, and true age; he's much older than he appears, and much less innocent than Connie thought...
  • The '60s: When the story takes place.
  • Underdressed for the Occasion: Inverted with June, she wears high heels and a nice dress to a BBQ.

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