This essay has a total of 2548 words and 10 pages.
Where Are You Going Where Have You Been
Each of us experiences transitions in our lives. Some of these changes are small, like moving from one school semester to the next. Other times these changes are major, like the transition between youth and adulthood. In Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” the author dramatizes the decisive moment people face when at the crossroads between the illusions and innocence of youth and the uncertain future.
Joyce Carol Oates' message of life and transitions is best understood when the reader brings his or her interpretation to meet with the author's intention at a middle ground. In this story of life passages and crucial events, it is imperative that the reader has a solid response to Oates' efforts in order to fully comprehend the message.
The author begins her message with the title of her work, which conveys the idea of passages of time in life. The phrase "where are you going" suggests a time in the future, and the phrase "where have you been" evokes the past. Oates' message continues through the plot and characters.
"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" consists of two main focus scenes: the world Connie thrives in and the day everything in it changes. The story begins by introducing the reader to Connie (the protagonist) world. The story is written in limited point of view in the third person. The reader is allowed into the private thoughts of Connie only, making her the focal point and heroine of the story. The author begins the story with Connie's life to establish a world we can grow familiar with so we will later feel the experience of the foundation dropping out. Connie is an attractive fifteen year old girl, easily recognized by the reader as the epitome of a teenager. Her world is full of rock and roll music, friends, fun, and fantasy. She spends the summer going to town with friends, listening to music, and meeting with boys. She and her friends share similar interests in boys and fun, and "would lean together and whisper and laugh secretly" (Oates 703) when they gathered together. Like many teens, Connie seemingly lives two lives: one that her family sees, another that she projects to her peers. "Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home" (Oates 703). She seems to at constant odds with her family, not seeming to have any emotional connection to them observable to the reader. She lies to her mother and sister about her friends and where she goes at night. Her relationship with her father is non-existent, as he is always at work. She considers her family to be an embarrassment when around her friends. June works at Connie's school "and if that weren't bad enough - with her in the same building" (Oates 702), Connie also saw her sister as unattractive. Physical appearances are important to Connie, and she is fittingly obsessed with her own.
Connie also lives in a fantasy world. She spends her time daydreaming about boys and meetings with them. Her mother constantly tries to pull her out of these imaginary journeys, telling her "her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams" (Oates 702). Her image of the world is what she sees behind rose colored glasses of youth. Her involvement with boys, both real and imagined, were "sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs" (Oates 705). Their faces blended together in her mind, "dissolved into a single face that was not really a face" (Oates 704), making them not real people capable of anything but figments she could control, figments that prolonged her fantasies. She never thought about the world beyond her doorstep until the day it came for her.
The day Arnold Friend pulls up Connie's driveway is the day Connie's world of youthfulness is invaded with brutal reality. Before Friend actually shows up, Connie has an experience where she awoke from a dream "and hardly knew where she was" (Oates 705), finding her ranch house looking more old and worn and asbestos- covered than she ever realized before. This is just the beginning of the reality Connie faces that day. Friend comes to Connie's house, attempting to seduce her into going for a ride with him in his beat up gold painted jalopy. The location they are actually headed for is ambiguous, both to the readers and to the characters themselves. Friend himself seems to have no idea where he is going to take Connie, only that it will be away from her house. "It was if the idea of going . . . . Somewhere, to someplace, was a new idea to him" (Oates 707). The fact that there is no destination in mind is evidence that the future Connie faces, once removed from her cocoon of youth, is itself uncertain. Friend eventually succeeds in luring Connie away from the comfort and protection of her home; the threat of violence to her family by Friend is the catalyst for her relenting. This is proof of Connie's changing values, for the reader recognizes that this is the first time Connie has shown any emotional connection to her family whatsoever. The fact that Friend approaches Connie's house is crucial to understanding what Connie is experiencing. A house has connotations to the reader as a sanctuary, a place where a person (in this case Connie) can be a child protected from the world. Connie's retreating into the house at Friend's approach and her refusal to fully leave the grounds reveals her desperate attempts to cling to the safe world she knows. At Friend's threats she "backed away from the door . . . [into] a place she had never seen before, some room she had run inside" (Oates 710). She recognizes things are different outside where Friend inhabits, yet her own house is not the familiar, protected structure she grew up depending on. In fact, Connie is trapped somewhere between her childhood home which no longer provides any protection or familiarity for her and a dangerous future with an adult stranger. Connie has no innocence to return to, so she makes the choice to go with Friend, the only choice available to her at that moment. Her leaving the house is symbolic of her leaving that innocent piece of herself behind.
Also symbolic of her leaving something behind, in this case her fantasies and illusions, is her agreement to go with Friend. He brings to a crashing halt all her song-inspired fantasies of young love. Friend's face is specifically mentioned several times, and he even sported "a round grinning face" (Oates 706) on the side of his car. This is a sharp contrast to the faceless boys of Connie's dreams. It is clear that dreams and realities are beginning to melt together for Connie. He is hardly the typical romantic hero the readers and Connie are accustomed to (regardless of whether or not he thinks he is), both in physical appearance and in mental well-being. He is so old he wears make up to appear younger. He is short, walking just on the verge of falling over. His attempts to connect with youth are outdated, from the passé slogan on his car to the way he verbally ran "through all the expressions he'd learned but was no longer sure which one of them was still in style" (Oates 712). He is often confusing to Connie, revealing to her an imaginary "x" symbol he proclaims to be his "mark" as well as a series of numbers that have no significance to her thoug
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