Essay 3 As a child we often fantasize about finally obtaining freedom in adulthood, but often find the realities of adulthood shatter these childhood dreams. The journey between childhood and adulthood is frustrating and confusing, and in most adolescents, is filled with apprehension and anxiety. For the protagonist Connie, this distress is expressed in her dreamlike encounter with Arnold Friend. In the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ,” Joyce Carol Oates used the interaction between her two main character, to reveal the internal fear and conflict of a fifteen year old girl maturing into a young woman.
Oates chooses narrate her story in the third person giving us a glimpse in to Connie’s thoughts, her lonely isolation form her family, and her daydreams of boys and love songs. Connie’s negative, always nagging mother makes her fear growing up and being miserable too. Greg Johnson interprets the story as “a cautionary tale, suggesting that young women are ‘going’ exactly where their mothers and grandmothers have already ‘been‘” (166). One of Connie’s foreshadowing daydreams brings to light ominous events to come: “Connie wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over” (153).
This is the first time Connie’s thoughts drift to the dark side. The foil, June, is described as “twenty-four and still lived at home…helped clean and cook” (153). Even though June is “so plain and chunky” (153), she has her mother’s and her aunt’s constant approval. June is a sharp contrast to Connie and helps emphasize Connie’s immaturity, vanity, and selfishness. The emptiness of her home life leads Connie to day dream. “Connie couldn’t do anything, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams” (153). Connie fears growing up and maturing into a woman and uses illusions to deal with her reality.
Although Oates allows us to know all of Connie’s thoughts, only Arnold Friend’s actions are revealed. Perhaps because he is not a real threat, but a dream conjured up by Connie. Larry Rubin’s critical interpretation of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ” is that the encounter with Arnold Friend is a dream sparked by her sexual attraction to him. She sat in the sun once again daydreaming of “love…the way it was in the movies and promised in songs” (155). She dreams of this love often, but she also fears it. The music Ellie is playing is exactly what is playing in her room, suggesting she is having a dream.
Before Arnold Friend’s arrival, Connie “opened her eyes, she hardly knew where she was” she even “shook her head as if to get awake (155). Connie’s reaction to the encounter with Friend, the way he speaks to her, “he had the voice of the man on the radio” (158), the hold he has on her, and eventually the fact that she follows him out the door seemingly paralyzed by his will, strengthens Rubin’s statement that “such physical paralysis in the face of on coming danger is a phenomenon familiar to all dreams” (166). According to some critics, Arnold Friend is a symbol of Satan.
Oates inspiration for “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? ”, was a Life article “The Pied Piper of Tucson,” by Don Moser. In Moser’s article he describes Charles Schmid, “’Smitty‘, with mean beautiful eyes, and an intrestin way of talking (19)…He bragged to girls he knew one hundred different ways to make love” (23). He seemed to have the local teenager under his spell. He bragged to his friend about killing two sisters, and “his ambition was to have a girl commit suicide over him” (84). Charles Schmid seem to be the recantation of Satan, but Arnold Friend represents reality and life.
In the last moments of Connie’s childhood, “she drew her shoulders up and sucked in her breath with the pure pleasure of being alive” (154). She was still innocent and naive. When she first encounters Arnold Friend at the local burger joint, he says “Gonna get you, baby” (154). Despite the fact that she is getting older and adult hood is looming on the horizon, she chooses to ignore it, and continues to fantasize be immature. She doesn’t know it yet, but reality in the form of Arnold Friend, will not be pushed aside.
When he first shows up at her house her curiosity is aroused, she “liked the way he dressed” (157). Life, Arnold Friend, goes along with her at first even laughing. Connie first knows Arnold is serious, “the way he straightened and recovered from his fit of laughing showed it had all been fake” (157): it’s time to grow up now. Reality is fast approaching. At the climax, Connie comes to terms with her fear and internal conflict and stands up by her self: her dreams of escaping her mother’s life, freedom, and fairytale love go out the front porch door with her and Arnold.
While his real life counter part Charles Schmid was pure evil, Arnold Friend represent the reality of life not the devil. When you are on the bridge between being a child and an adult, life, like Arnold Friend, can apear to be grotesque, scary, and mysterious. Joyce Carol Oates uses the thoughts and interactions between a young girl and her imaginary Friend to magnify the internal struggle every child must endure. Connie has always used daydreams to deal with her reality, but in the end Arnold Friend brought reality to her.