The belief of valuing a human’s life may be inherent and unequivocal by most people. Nevertheless, there are people in the world that do not acknowledge the importance of one’s life and choose to be careless over the fact and proceed to take advantage of anyone, regardless of the consequences. These types of people were either taught not to value humanity at birth or elect to treat others as objects or use them as pawns to further their own personal gain. In the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates and the film Smooth Talk, a girl named Connie is assaulted by one of these kinds of people. However, it is left unclear what truly happens to her at the end of the story and the film is open to interpretation by the readers or viewers. The recklessness displayed by Connie’s actions and demeanor leads to her becoming terrorized by a psychopath named Arnold Friend.
According to Merriam-Webster, a psychopath is a person who has an egocentric and antisocial personality marked by a lack of remorse for one’s actions, an absence of empathy for others, and often criminal tendencies. Arnold Friend is initially introduced into the story as a figure that Connie is somewhat interested in initially in a precarious way. Arnold is an older man who offers to take Connie and rid her problems and messy life that she seems to be wrapped up in. He is profoundly different from the boys Connie knows, which fascinates her. Yet, the mystery surrounding Arnold quickly vanishes as he begins to threaten Connie and press her for sexual favors. Joyce M. Wegs shares her interpretation of the story, saying Arnold symbolizes Satan. He is often found in disguise and the distortions in his face and behavior indicate his true intentions and the fake personas (Wegs). During their encounter, Arnold Friend tells Connie, “But I promise it won’t last long and you’ll like me that way you get to like people you’re close to. You will. It’s all over for you here, so come on out. You don’t want your people in any trouble, do you?” (Oates 8). He thought of her more as property rather than a human begin. Arnold Friend’s physical traits also help to portray him as Satan. Several allusions are made to the irregularity of his feet. As said in the story, “He almost fell. But, like a clever drunken man, he managed to catch his balance. He wobbled in his high boots and grabbed hold of one of the porch posts” (6). Satan is notorious for having a cloven hoof, which is found in many folklore and popular culture. Having similar physical characteristics to Satan shows a distinct connection. Attempts to seduce Connie are seen many times throughout the story. He achieves this by appealing to her interest in radio talk with which she treatures. Connie notes that as she talks with Arnold, the more he sounds like a radio personality. If the Devil wishes to accomplish his goal of seduction, he must be able to allure his victims with a similar interest. In Connie’s case, that language is personalities displayed through the radio. Arnold Friend’s representation of the devil hits its peak when he destroys Connie’s fearlessness and she desperately runs in her house and proceeds to cul up in a corner of the house, holding the phone (8). Connie is so scared of Arnold Friend’s dark nature that she makes no effort to call someone for help and essentially becomes paralyzed by her fear.
The story was originally written based on true events about a serial killer named Charles Schmid, who was known for trying to exploit girls and proceeding to kill them afterward. Schmid was becoming popularized based on these killings and was at his peak in the 1960s. Oates was inspired by the victims of Charles Schmid and she chose to write a short story from the view of one of those victims. Similarities between Friend and Schmid are apparent as they are both master manipulators who create false personas to get close to their victims and strike when their guard is down. Oates says in an interview, “The Pied Piper mimicked teenagers in talk, dress, and behavior, but he was not a teenager—he was a man in his early thirties. Rather short, he stuffed rags in his leather boots to give himself height” (Bovsun). Many similarities in appearances can also be seen between the two. Friend and Schmid both used makeup to give the illusion of being younger than he actually was, stuffing their shoes with cans to give the appearance of being taller, and even paint an artificial mole on their cheek. Both men try to find a way to connect to the girls who become their victims. Arnold Friend tries to seduce Connie by going to her house. Charles Schmid had his girlfriend's friend come on a date with them to a secluded spot in the desert and Schmid goes on to rape and kill her whole his girlfriend sat there silently. In the story, Arnold tells Connie that he going to “come inside you where it’s all secrets” and drive Connie to a “vast sunlit reaches of land” (9). These predatory tactics show just how similar these two men are and how their reasoning is identical. Oates based Arnold Friend off of Charles Schmid to emphasize the comparison between the two and ultimately how this affects Connie’s life.
The ending of a story can leave a drastic impact on the true meaning behind a story and the reason for writing it. The ending determines the kind of story the author wants to tell and can either propel a story over the top or dimish it almost completely. This example can easily be seen when comparing the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” and the film Smooth Talk. Smooth Talk initially is supposed to be based on the short story; however, it becomes apparent that although many similarities persist, the two stories are overall very different due to the ending and theme behind it. The two stories are based on two different interpretations of things such as some points of the plot, character personality, and most importantly, the ending. The short story is inspired by the horror story of The Pied Piper of Tucson but it changes in the film, becoming about a teenage girl’s problems growing up and the issue of having to face them. Connie’s unfortunate downfall comes at the hands of Arnold Friend as his intentions begin to look for clear. Arnold talks to Connie in a way that charms her in a vindictive way that shows the true devilish nature of Arnold Friend. As Arnold talks to Connie he says, You’re cute. Don'tcha believe me, or what?” (3). He specifically makes these remarks to entice her into liking Arnold and deceive her into believing he is not dangerous. Though it is uncertain for sure, Connie is raped by Arnold Friend and eventually killed by him. The story teaches a lesson about the consequences of behaving crudely in public and the repercussions of disobeying one’s parents. Alternatively, Smooth Talk explores Connie’s life in a deeper manner and chooses to analyze the broken relationship between Connie and her family rather than Arnold Friend. The film does a poor job imitating the interaction between Arnold and Connie, unlike the story. Arnold does proceed to rape Coonie, however, he allows Connie to return home alive. Connie says in the story, “I don't want to see you here again ever” (Chopra). The ending is seen to be more hopeful for Connie rather than a horror story originally intended and portrayed by Oates. Smooth Talk is less effective than “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been,” because the focus of the story changes. The film chooses to focus on Connie’s consequences and how a girl should live her life. This makes the film lose all credibility.
Many critics have given their interpretations that differ from the original story in many ways. Not all of these, however, are believed to be correct and thus lose validity. Greg Johnson is one of the interpreters of the story. He interprets the story as a “feminist allegory” and suggests that women surrender to male domination and are forced into sexual acts. Greg Johnson says, “... suggesting that young women are “going” exactly where their mothers and grandmothers have already “been”: into sexual bondage at the hands of a male “Friend” (Johnson 206). This can be disproven by the fact that Connie is sexually enticing men and it eventually leads to her becoming assaulted by Arnold Friend. Mike Tierce and John Micheal Crafton are also critics that argue Arnold Friend as a messiah figure and base their case off identifying him with Bob Dylan. Tierce and Crafton say, “Rising out of Connie’s radio, Arnold Friend/Bob Dylan is a magical, musical messiah; he persuades Connie to abandon her father’s house” (Tierce/Crafton 207). This is disproved by the interaction of Arnold and Connie outside her house. Arnold says, “‘If the place got lit up with fire, honey, you’d come runnin’ out into my arms, right into my arms an’ safe at home—like you knew I was your lover and’d stopped fooling around’” (7). Arnold threatened to burn the house if she did not come out and no messiah figure would resort to intimidation and threats like that. She came out because Connie did not want her house to burn down and potentially die in the process.
The ending of a story can leave a drastic impact on the true meaning behind a story and the reason for writing it. Connie’s disregard for her actions and conduct results in her being threatened by Arnold Friend, an apparent psychopath. Arnold’s criminal representation of Charles Schmid causes his attitude toward young girls to be vengeful. In the end, this leads to Connie falling victim and meeting her tragic end. Although many other interpretations of the ending exist, such as Arnold being a messiah and Connie be forced into sexual bondage, these are evidently not supported well. Connie is brutally raped and killed by Arnold due to flaunting her assets and unfortunately being targeted by Friend as a result. It is important to keep in mind family and parents’ sayings to be kept safe and steer clear of dangerous people. Connie did not follow her parents’ wishes and it ultimately led to her downfall.