“Where Are You Going, Where Are You Been” follows the story of a self-absorbed teen named Connie who meets a smooth charmer named Arnold. However, curiosity killed the cat as his personality and behavior got the best of Connie as she runs off with him. The author, Joyce Carol Oates has used the classic Bluebeard tale with this story set in the 1960s. While reading this short story, there is a lot of detail and meaning going on from the perspective of Connie as she is put into a situation of her own. And so forth, Oates has used symbolism in her story as plot devices in a way to move the events and characters of the story along.
Connie’s character and actions are considered symbolic in terms of how the story is set up and foreshadowing later on. This excerpt, “Connie couldn't do a thing, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams” (Oates 454) emphasizes how her air-headed persona shows a character detail that will strongly affect her in the end. Since she is vain about what is happening, her negligence of her parents will soon make her realize something when she’s in danger near. The end. This other quote also gives a detail that as she is trying to make herself appealing while not at home, which leads her to go out with boys like Eddie. “Her mouth… pale and smirking most of the time, but bright and pink on these evenings out; her laugh, which was cynical and drawling at home—'Ha, ha, very funny,'—but high pitched and nervous anywhere else” (Oates 454). Overall, the establishment of has surprisingly attracted the attention of the story’s antagonist, Arnold Friend, as he has enough entail on her to start his plan.
Arnold’s personality and traits make him symbolize himself as the the story’s antagonist. There are a few instances of foreshadowing again showing how he is the story’s villain. First, when he draws an “X” in the air in page 460, it is a sign that she has got Connie right where he wants him. Also, his first line directly at Connie, “Gonna get you baby” (Oates 455), is another first sign of him as a villain once we first see him, despite not having any background. It makes it clear in the climax as Arnold threatens Connie that he will kill her family if she calls the cops. “She could see then that he wasn't a kid, he was much older—thirty, maybe more” (Oates 460). Also, an online article says “many critics also believe that Arnold Friend is simply ‘An old fiend,’ (notice the two r’s removed), another name for the Devil” (McManus). This means he could be representing as the Devil through the examples previously mentioned. This makes it clear that alongside Connie’s egoistic personality, he was able to maintain control of Connie and take her as his lover.
Besides the characters, music within the story’s era represents some of the concepts and conflict that goes on between Connie, Arnold, and Connie’s family:
- It defines part of Connie’s behavior and thoughts.
- It has shown Connie to connect and fall for Arnold.
Also, objects such as Arnold’s car shows us symbols that tell us about his character and one of the supporting backbones of the story. “Closely related to the freedom Americans wanted from their cars was a sense that their car reflected something about themselves” (McAllister). This quote can give us an idea about Arnold just by looking at his car. “And up at the front fender was an expression that was familiar—MAN THE FLYING SAUCERS… She looked at it for a while as if the words meant something to her that she did not yet know” (Oates 459-460). Along with the bright paint hurting her eyes (Oates 459), Arnold’s car signifies to Connie that something is up with him. Adjacent to the end as Arnold takes control over Connie, his car summarizes his own character as he is a disguised villain that is about to set the curious Connie into her trap.
As much as cars, internal conflict can be symbolized through other objects such as Connie’s home and screen door where she has a protected life inside, but she doesn’t know what’s outside in a larger world. “Connie let the screen door close and stood perfectly still inside it, listening to the music from her radio and the boy's blend together” (Oates 460). The screen door acts as a barrier between Connie’s naivety and Arnold’s assertiveness, but more importantly, her safe place from trouble. Even as Connie tries to prevent Arnold from killing her family, it’s another way to represent that home can also signify Connie’s safety as she doesn’t want to go outside. However, this exchange shows us that Connie decides to break down that barrier leaving behind her family and safety as she leaves with Arnold. “Arnold Friend was saying from the door, 'That's a good girl. Put the phone back.' She kicked the phone away from her. 'No, honey. Pick it up. Put it back right.' She picked it up and put it back. The dial tone stopped. 'That's a good girl. Now, you come outside” (Oates 465). Now her house can’t protect herself as Arnold forces her to drive away with him from her safe zone.
Overall, the entire story seems to be an allegory of “Death of the Maiden” giving us a similar feel within the situation that Connie faces against Arnold. To explain it, “Persephone gathered flowers in company of carefree nymphs when she saw a pretty narcissus and plucked it just as Hades came from the underworld and abducted her” (“Jeune Fille Et La Mort”). To compare it to the story, Connie is vulnerable and looks beautiful, much like Persephone, about her attraction to the devil, Arnold, with no clue he is seducing her. Connie is also seen as the young, and as she decides to stay with Arnold in the end, it is almost as a sign that we will face death one day in the long run. Oates has probably based off this folktale as a guide by using her main characters as symbols to Persephone and Hades so we can relate to the story’s plot.
Drawing to a close, Connie’s personality has set herself up into trouble with Arnold Friend and his custom car. She steps away from the screen door away and her family to the music of the outside world and oblivious affection of boys like Arnold that make her character interesting to explore. Many of the symbols we see has connected to a modern-day twist on the classic “Bluebeard” tale only with a few unexpected details. Symbolism in Oates’ story is important because it doesn’t give just the characters like Connie and Arnold something to represent, but also the concepts and objects that surround them too giving us a new understanding to the story we read. Now we know when to think twice as things get suspicious sometimes.
- McManus, Dermot. 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol.' The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 22 Jul. 2014. Web.
- Oates, Joyce Carol. 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?.' Portable Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, 2016 MLA Update. Ed. Laurie Kirszner, Ed. Stephen Mandell. Cengage Learning, 2017. 453-466. Print.
- Oates, Joyce Carol, and R. P. Hale. Blue-Bearded Lover. William B. Ewert, 1987.
- “Jeune Fille Et La Mort.” La Mort Dans L'Art, www.lamortdanslart.com/fille/maiden.htm. Web.
- McAllister, Ted V. “Cars, Individualism, and the Paradox of Freedom in a Mass Society.” Front Porch Republic, 2 May 2018, www.frontporchrepublic.com/2011/10/cars-individualism-and-the-paradox-of-freedom-in-a-mass-society/.