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Where You Are Going, Where You Have Been by Joyce Carol Oates Character Analysis

by nickoklasyoon


Where You Are Going, Where You Have Been by Joyce Carol Oates Character Analysis

In "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," Connie is portrayed as a narcissistic and an ungracious young woman. She is fifteen years old and frequently disrespects others and brags about her attractiveness. Initially, the plot seems to be about a self centered, sexually deviant girl who attracts the attention of a sexual predator. However, close examination of the numbers that are used in the novel reveals a deeper theological and moral themes. 33, 19, and 17 are some of those special numbers which are used as Arnold Friend's name. There is ample evidence that demonstrates that Connie was abducted by the devil and not kidnapped by a sexual predator which appears to be so on the surface. Understanding theological implications of the story help readers understand the true meaning of the text.

The first paragraph of the story is about Connie's vanity and pride. These are part of the seven deadly sins according to [Bibleinfo.com]. Connie has a habit of “Craning her neck to glance into mirrors, or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right” (pg 1). Connie's mother would constantly tell her to stop looking in the mirror and to imitate her sister June. Unlike her sister, June gains recognition from everyone. However, Connie ignores June and thinks that she is better compared to June because she knew that “she was pretty and that was everything” (pg 1). Connie even believes that her mother “preferred her to June because she was prettier” (pg 2). Another way Connie and her friends feed their egos is by insulting and making fun of other people. When a person who made them laugh passed by, they would “lean together to whisper and laugh secretly (pg 1). When a boy that they didn't like invited them over, it made them “feel good to be able to ignore him” (pg 2). Along with these sins, Connie also lied to her mother, had multiple affairs, and skipped church on Sundays. Connie accepts that she commonly lies to her mother when she believes that her “mother is so simple” (pg 2), and that “it was maybe cruel to fool her so much” (pg 2). Even about what she does when she goes out with her friends, she would lie to her mother. Connie is actually meeting older guys at a drive-in restaurant, going to eat with them, and going to the movies while her mother thinks she is just hanging out at the mall with her friends and would later join them for a social outing in an “alley a mile or so away” (pg 2) from the restaurant where they ate. Connie had actually encountered so many men in this way that when she daydreamed about them, they “fell back and dissolved into a single face that was not even a face, but an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent insistent pounding of the music and the humid night air of July” (pg 2). Finally, On the Sunday morning that Arnold Friend knocked on Connie's door, she did not attend church. because no one in her family “bothered with church” (pg 3). Given that Arthur rejects religion (Humanism and its Discontents), it might seem inappropriate to analyze the narrative from a theological point of view.

However, it is obvious that Arthur intended the story to be read with Christian theology in mind. The abundance of subtly placed religious allusions demonstrates this. In the beginning, Arthur makes it clear that the family is Christian by stating that they did not bother to attend church on Sundays. Second, the words "old fiend" result from removing the letter R from the name Arnold Friend. This implies that Arnold Friend is portrayed as a demonic figure if not the devil himself. The numbers on Arnold Friends' car—33, 19, and 17—are the story's last and most overtly theological allusion. According to Nick Courtrights, if you count the Old Testament books backward, Judges is the 33rd book from the end, and its chapter 19 verse 17, “And when he had lifted up his eyes, he saw a wayfaring man in the street of the city: and the old man said, "Whither goest thou? And whence comest thou?" [{bible hub}https://biblehub.com/judges/19-17.htm] This echoes the story's title, "Where are you going, where have you been?" in old English. Observing various religious connotations in the story demonstrates that interpreting Arnold Friend as the devil is not out of context. The devil is very manipulative; “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” ({bible gateway} Holy Bible: New International Version, Genesis 3-1) [https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%203%3A1-7&version=NIV].

Like the devil, Arnold Friend is cunning and deceptive to a fault. He had a “simple lilting voice” (pg 6), spoke in a “singsong way” (pg 7), “his smile assured her that everything was fine” (pg 6), and he started the conversation by complimenting her and calling her cute. Arnold Friend tricked Connie into thinking that even iron could not keep her safe from him when she tried to lock the door after learning that he isn’t as young as she initially believed. “It’s just a screen door. It’s just nothing. I mean anybody can break through a screen door and a glass and wood and iron or anything else if he needs to, anybody at all and specially Arnold Friend. If the place lit up with a fire honey you’d come running out into my arms” (pg 10) He compares the house to a cardboard box that he can “knock down at any time” (pg 12). Arnold Friend succeeds in making Connie feel helpless in this way, especially after warning her that her parents would only end up getting hurt if they arrived. The devil is an expert at trickery and disguising himself. “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” ({bible gateway} 2 Corinthians 11:14). [https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20Corinthians%2011%3A14&version=NIV]

Satan shows himself as appealing and attractive in order to win the confidence and trust of humans. Repeatedly, the story mentions that Arnold Friend is in disguise. He dresses like a teen boy so that Connie can identify with him. She says that she “liked the way he dressed, which was the way they all dressed” (pg 5). His eyes “that catch the light in an amiable way” (pg 6) his "hard small muscles of his arms and shoulder," (pg. 5) and the fact that his face seemed familiar all contribute to her opinion that he is attractive. Connie began to notice other things about him, such as how he "placed his sunglasses on top of his head, carefully, as if he were actually wearing a wig" (pg. 8), and by how it seemed to her that his "whole face was a mask" (pg 9) once she realized that he is not as young as he first appeared. When Connie finally noticed it, she noted that "one of his boots is at a strange angle, as if his foot is not in it. It pointed out to the left, bent at the ankle.” (pg 10). According to popular belief, the devil has hooves for feet which would account for the fact that his "feet did not go all the way down" (pg. 10) and that the shoe would be at an odd angle. In addition, Arnold Friend appeared to possess a wealth of knowledge that seems impossible for him to possess. He possessed abilities beyond those of human abilities. For example, Arnold could not have learned Connie’s name and the names of her friends through social media because it did not exist in the 1960s. Nonetheless, he is still able to identify them all, even though Connie does not recall ever seeing him. Additionally, he added, “ I know your parents and sister are gone somewhere, and I know where and how long they’re going to be gone, and I know who you were with last night, and your best friend’s name is Betty” (pg 6). Arnold Friend is aware of Connie’s address, the duration and destination of her parent’s absences, and their whereabouts. As the narrator started, “squinting as if he were staring all the way to town and over to Aunt Tillie’s backyard” (pg 8), he is able to describe what Connie’s parents were doing from where he stood. Lastly, Arnold Friend drew an X in the air, and “after his hand fell back to his side, the X was still in the air, almost visible” (pg 7), another warning sign of his true nature.

In “Where are you going, Where have you been?” Connie attracts the attention of what initially appears to be a sexual predator due to her prideful and sinful lifestyle. However, it is apparent that Arthur intended for the story to be interpreted from a theological perspective, regardless of her atheistic beliefs, by removing the R from Arnold friend’s name and realizing that the title of the story is found in Judges 19:17, as hinted towards by the numbers 33, 19, and 17. This, along with Arnold Friend’s resemblance to the devil, leads to the conclusion that Connie is actually abducted by the devil, who committed the first sin-pride and is expelled from heaven as a result of it. Connie is not taken hostage by a sexual predator.

Quotes

  • “craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right.” / “she was pretty and that was everything.” / “lean together to whisper and laugh secretly [pg 1]
  • “preferred her to June just because she was prettier” / “feel good to be able to ignore him” / “mother was so simple” / “it was maybe cruel to fool her so much” / “alley a mile or so away” / “fell back and dissolved into a single face that was not even a face but an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent insistent pounding of the music and the humid night air of July.” [pg 2]
  • “bothered with church” [pg 3]
  • “liked the way he was dressed, liked the way he was dressed, which was the way all of them dressed” / “hard small muscles of his arms and shoulders” [pg 5]
  • “simple lilting voice” / “His smile assured her that everything was fine.” / “that catch the light in an amiable way” / “I know your parents and sister are gone somewheres and I know where and how long they're going to be gone, and I know who you were with last night, and your best girl friend's name is Betty” [pg 6]
  • “singsong way” / “After his hand fell back to his side the X was still in the air, almost visible” [pg 7]
  • “placed his sunglasses on top of his head, carefully, as if he were indeed wearing a wig” / “squinting as if he were staring all the way to town and over to Aunt Tillie's back yard” [pg 8]
  • “whole face was a mask” [pg 9]
  • "It's just a screen door. It's just nothing." / "I mean, anybody can break through a screen door and glass and wood and iron or anything else if he needs to, anybody at all, and specially Arnold Friend. If the place got lit up with a fire, honey, you'd come runnin' out into my arms” / “One of his boots was at a strange angle, as if his foot wasn't in it. It pointed out to the left, bent at the ankle” / “feet did not go all the way down” [pg 10]
  • “knock down any time.” [pg 12]


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Fri Jan 13, 2023 12:53 am
Lovestrike wrote a review...



Hi nickoklasyoon!

Lovely choice of story! It's a classic.

You do a great job analyzing Connie's character! I think her personality is really a big part of the plot and she was a really interesting character. She deserved so much better! Since it's an older story, there are many... old-fashioned plot points though. Connie's character outlives the age of the story, which makes her an excellent choice for an analysis! There are highs and also lows to her, which is good for something in depth like this. There are many things to mention when it comes to her.

You focus on a lot of Connie's negative traits, which isn't a bad thing! I think that she has a mixture of both though. She isn't the best person ever, but she is at a point in life where that's okay. She's figuring herself out! I think you're missing that.

Your analysis is very detailed! I like how you mentioned the theological point of view, but i also wish you focused more on the actual storyline! The religious side of things is a major theme, but there are many other hidden meanings to be found. Connie being sinful could be understood as a result of other things. It depends on the reader! I think the versatility is why I admire older literature, especially when it's short stories. Typically it's the older, the better! :')

Overall, I think you captured the essence nicely! I wish you expanded on some details though, but what you have right now is pretty good! It covers all of the bases. Connie is one of those characters you either love or hate, which makes her so interesting!

Nicely done! I gained some insights! =D

- Solstice




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Fri Jan 13, 2023 12:35 am
LeavanDragon wrote a review...



This is a very intriguing analysis! I actually like it quite alot. The equating of theology to this story is very impressive and your ability to explain how the text relates to more biblical knowledge is great. I especially enjoy the latter half of this essay where things come together as you truly put things in perspective that Arthur is not only a theological allegory for the devil, but could actually be him. Even as someone who has not read the story, the evidence you bring about is very interesting and makes me invested in wanting to read the story for myself to look for these clues.

In terms of criticism, I would probably say to maybe use more traditional in citations, such as APA or MLA, for both in text and when referencing your sources. I would do this for the story being analyzed, as well as the biblical site which you are using. I would also improve your thesis, as I think you could have combined the last two sentences into one for something brief and concrete.

A side note for the recourses that you utilized here, I also think you can enhance you analysis of this story by using different biblical quotes from versions of the book, as sometimes translations can change the context of situations within the bible. This can range from how characters such as Satan, the Snake and the Devil are referenced, to the messages or stories certain scriptures teach.

Overall, this was a very great essay and I enjoyed reading it. It is clear you understand the story of "Where are you going, Where have you been" very well, and I hope to read more of the essays or stories you put on this site in the future!





Just because you don't feel like a hero in your own story, doesn't mean you're not a hero in someone else's.
— Tenyo