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Critical Analysis of ‘They All Just Went Away’ and ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been’

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Realistic, not Imagined

Once a research conducted by a Chinese marriage consulting center indicated that in one hundred and fifty cases of nearly collapsed marriage, seventy-eight of them are under the influence of families of origin, in which more than fifty percent of cases consist of parents who have quarrels and family violence (Bliss, 2019). Revealed in this study, families that lack harmony and care cause marriage’s unhappiness. Since this problem took place previously, many writers produce essays to convey their desire of solving this problem especially in a female’s perspective. Joyce Carol Oates is one of them. In her two essays, “They All Just Went Away” and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been,” she describes in the first essay that Mr. Weidel destroyed his family and caused great damage on his daughter Ruth’s happiness in her future marriage; likely, in the second essay, Connie’s parents were careless about her, and finally she was easily tempted and deceived to go out with a strange man, which suggests that the disharmony of family results in realistic unhappiness of a female’s marriage. From females’ points of view, this idea opposes the female’s imagined happiness of marriage depicted in the fairy tale—Snow White through the parental generation’s aspect—the female character’s parents’ poor relationship leads to her mother’s unfortunate life after marriage from which fairy-tale happiness of marriage is alike, and through the aspect of daughters’ generation—families’ partiality and families’ violence trigger female characters’ unhappiness of marriage.

To begin with, a mother’s aloof relationship with her husband causes postnuptial unhappiness, which is opposite from the fairy-tale premarital happiness of Snow White. As for the essay, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You been,” Oates portrays that Connie’s mother nearly lives with her two daughters—June and Connie without actual relation and conversations between her and her husband. She writes, “Their father was away at work most of the time and when he came home he wanted supper and…after supper he went to bed. He didn't bother talking much to them…Connie's mother kept picking at her” (Oates 1). According to the author, Connie’s father does not care about his wife and children and lives like a puppet. This wordless relationship affects the mother’s characteristics to become nagging and favor of expressing her annoyance and complaint. Oates depicts that the mother repeatedly scolded one of her daughters without time interval (Oates 1). Similarly, as stated in the fairy tale, “Little Snow-white,” the King had another wife soon after his first wife’s death, and the second Queen merely know to regularly ask the magical mirror if she is the most beautiful woman (Jacob & Grimm, n.d.). On the one hand, no matter how happy the mother’s premarital life was, the father shows a cold face on his wife, which is the manifestation of lacking responsibility as a husband. Owing to this kind of alienation of his wife, the mother’s loquacious nature comes into being, which provokes marital unhappiness. On the other hand, even in Little Snow-White, the second queen’s marriage is incomplete and of no warmth because the King offers her only an identity of queen or wife, which is analogous with the marriage of Ruth’s mother; this evidence demonstrates that the fairy-tale happiness of marriage itself does not appear all the way through the story. To sum up, in both the reality and imagination of parental generation, the situation of entire happiness of marriage does not endure. This rule is the same with children’s generation.

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Furthermore, in the age of adolescence, parents’ unhappiness of marriages, or concretely, neglection and prejudice, determines children’s conjugal unhappiness in the future, which challenges the fairy-tale marriage of women. Connie’s elder sister, June, is one ideal female in people’s traditional mind about industrious women at Oates’ living society. Against this background, Connie’s mother compares Connie and June and criticizes Connie all day long with her relatives. Oates writes, “Connie had to hear her praised all the time by her mother…she saved money and helped clean the house and cooked and Connie couldn't do a thing, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams” (Oates, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been, 1). Without focusing on how to educate Connie well, the mother unconsciously and consistently finds Connie’s short-comings and does not offer encouragement to Connie, which deepens Connie’s loneliness and undermines her sense of belonging. What is more, in the author’s another essay, “They All Just Went Away,” the care of children differentiates from the author’s mother and Ruth’s mother. Oates says, “My mother, unlike Mrs. Weidel, had time to houseclean. It was a continuous task, a mother’s responsibility…Crimson peonies that flowered for my birthday, in mid-June” (Oates, They All Just Went Away, 6). From the opposite side of description, the author suggests that Mrs. Weidel is not concerned about her daughter and, on the contrary, Oates’ mother knows to prepare gifts for her, which creates a warm atmosphere of mother’s love that will decide the happiness and satisfaction of the daughter’s marriage. By using both the positive and side description, Oates indicates that the mother’s behaviors of ignoring and lack of responsibility are the origin of misfortune, and false and critical attitudes toward children raise their averse feeling. This indication comprehensively object to the imagined marriage—a prince immediately decides to marry Little Snow-White the first time he encounters her that realistic marriage of females needs a process to adapt and prepare, which can be impeded and destroyed by parents’ inaccurate education and treatment.

Eventually, as the supplement, families’ violent behaviors towards children hurt their wholesome characteristics prepared for happy marriage in the future contrary to the imagined fairy-tale happiness of marriage in “Little Snow-White.” In the essay, ‘‘They All Just Went Away,” the author compares his parents to Ruth’s and navigates to the theme that parents’ excessive violence exists in Ruth’s family. Oates writes, “Have I said that my father never struck his children, as Mr. Weidel struck his? And did worse things to them, to the girls sometimes…and Mrs. Weidel…had beaten the younger children when she’d been drinking” (Oates 6). The question used in these sentences emphasizes the degree to which the daughter suffers from the violence implemented by her parents. Even two or three years later, after Mr. Weidel set the fire, Ruth’s scar is not cured naturally, but follows her intrinsically and persistently. Oates says, “Ruth was special, the way a handicapped person is special. She was withdrawn, quiet; if still prone to violent outbursts of rage, she might have been on medication to control it” (Oates, They All Just Went Away, 8). No matter for how long time has passed, the influence of family violence is carved into Ruth’s inner heart, and most likely, twines around her when she grows up to be a bride in the marriage. Hence, unfortunate marriage has its origin, which is from endless violence. Ruth’s dissocial and aggressive nature comes from her parents, which will injure her happiness of marriage. Nevertheless, in imagined “Little Snow-White,” the protection and care from the hunter, seven dwarfs and the prince create harmonious atmosphere that function as realistic family to shape a female into friendly and outgoing personality which brings happiness in the future marriage. Thus, realistic marriage is different from fairy-tale marriage presented in “Little Snow-White.” By way of conclusion, domestic violence pushes a female as a daughter to an endless hole of unhappiness of marriage.

A female’s fairy-tale marriage, as an imagined object, has no reason to be aligned with marriage in reality because some realistic power stems the happiness of a woman’s marriage, which is considered to be indifferent relationship within the couple in parental age, and unfair attitudes and domestic violence toward a daughter. In “Little Snow-White,” admittedly, happiness is required to inform children of marriage’s beauty. However, in the real world, happiness of marriage does not exist in every female’s life. Therefore, families that have problems treating their daughters, deliberately or unconsciously, should correct or pay more attention on their treatment and attitudes, which not only represents a kind of responsibility for females, but provides a healthy and fair growing environment for females leading to actual happiness of marriage instead of an illusionary one.

Works Cited

  1. Bliss, P. (2019, 3 26). How big will the influence of families of origin be? Retrieved from Knowledgical Discussion:
  2. Jacob, & Grimm, W. (n.d.). Little Snow-White. Retrieved from
  3. Oates, J. C. (1966). Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been.
  4. Oates, J. C. (n.d.). They All Just Went Away.
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Critical Analysis of ‘They All Just Went Away’ and ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been’. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
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