“Where are You Going, Where Have You Been” is a short story by Joyce Carol Oates about a young girl Connie who is plagued with vanity and selfishness. One night this young teen meets a mysterious new boy, Arnold Friend, who turns out to be much older than her. Arnold is a deceptive character that attempts to lure Connie into his car based upon his knowledge of her flaws. Through physical descriptions and language, Oates portrays Arnold as a deceptive and complex character, capable of manipulation through a false identity.
Arnold Friend is the main antagonist within this short story. He sees Connie out with her friends one night, and is immediately infatuated with the girl. As the story progresses, Arnold makes it his goal to convince the young teen to agree to a romantic relationship with him. In order to pressure her, he shows up to her house uninvited and eventually threatens Connie until she complies.
Within Oates’ initial description of Arnold is mention of his “convertible jalopy painted gold” (1). Connie first sees the car when she is out with her friends at a fast food restaurant downtown. The car appears again during Connie’s second interaction with Arnold in her driveway, in which he first points out his name, Arnold Friend, painted along the side (3). Oates’ choice in name is significant because it can be closely compared to a name given to the devil, ArchFiend, implying that this character may have similar qualities. Additionally, the fact that Oates alters the name to be “Friend”, shows the nature of the relationship that Arnold wishes to pursue with Connie. The car is a jalopy, which is the name for an older car in poor condition. Yet, the car is painted gold, a symbol of wealth and high status (1). The gold paint job is representative of how Arnold is a traditionally bad character that is hiding behind an inaccurate and deceiving appearance.
Oates describes Arnold in a way that makes him appear fake and deceptive towards Connie. The first detail Connie notices when Arnold arrives at her house is the pair of metallic sunglasses that he is wearing to cover his eyes (3). Whenever Connie looks at him she sees a reflection of herself, implying that Arnold is the embodiment of the girl’s vanity. As Connie talks with Arnold outside, Oates continually describes the manner in which Arnold stands. When he is still he is “leaning back against his car as if he were balancing himself”, and when he moves he is “lurching” and “wobbling” (4-6). Arnold’s lack of bodily control in the clothing he is wearing suggests that he is dressed in a way that does not suit his normal appearance. He wants to fully take on the role of a boy that would appear desirable to Connie so as to successfully lure her into his car. During their interaction Connie even notes that he was dressed in a way that normally appealed to her when meeting boys (4). However, this fascade does not resonate with Connie because of her discomfort within the situation. She says that she is familiar with his looks and his “singsong” and “mocking” voice, but still she does not find herself wanting to give in to Arnold’s invitation to get in his car (5).
Language choice is another significant factor when analyzing Arnold’s character. He speaks with confidence, and almost arrogance, because he believes that this will attract Connie, a vain girl. Arnold appears uninvited at Connie’s house the following day, much to her surprise. Their interaction begins when Arnold says “‘ I ain’t late, am I?’”, implying that she was awaiting his arrival (2). Arnold’s tone builds upon his characterization because it supports his deceiving nature as a rude, assertive teen that would appeal to Connie. He takes advantage of her interest in his car to lure her off the stairs and into his vicinity. Arnold holds his friendly and welcoming tone with Connie as he says “Dont’cha wanta see what’s on the car?”, referring to its interesting paint job (3). His informal use of language makes it seem as if he has a prior relationship with Connie, and that he is talking to his girlfriend, rather than delusionally preying on a young teen. Eventually Arnold’s true nature begins to show as he demands Connie to get into his car: “We ain’t leaving until you come with us” (6). It’s in the final portion of the story that Arnold begins to lose his friendly and comforting tone, and threatens Connie and her family, showing that he was only acting in a way to comfort the girl, yet still take advantage of her. Had Connie gotten in Arnold’s car earlier on in their interaction, Arnold would’ve appeared less predatory, however this would not match his true identity. The language choice and shift from kind to threatening accurately characterizes Arnold as deceptive within the story’s plot.
The combination of Arnold’s physical attributes, his car’s paint job, and his language style depict the deception within his made-up identity. They also allow him to successfully pressure vain Connie to get into his car with him. While it is unclear what eventually happens to Connie, it is evident that she has seen the error in her flaws, and how they have led her to this compromising situation. Arnold’s character is representative of the devil in many ways, and serves the purpose of teaching a lesson to the narrow-minded teen in this fictitious story. While one might begin to feel sorry for Connie in many ways as the plot unfolds, Oates makes it abundantly clear that it was Connie’s own selfishness that contributed to her ultimate downfall. This story portrays the idea that people are capable of deceiving others in order to take advantage of them. Additionally, Oates seems to suggest that people that are selfish or have character flaws attract individuals that possess similar traits. Themes found within this story are significant in a real-world setting, and should be further scrutinized in today’s climate with the frequency of predatory relationships. Oates gives a unique perspective by hinting that Connie’s fate was a result of her own actions, which is an opinion that is largely frowned upon in current times. It is uncertain whether or not Oates intended for this story to be cautionary towards young teens, yet it still delivers a disturbing and beneficial message that we should continue to explore.
Oates , Joyce Carol. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been. Epoch Magazine , 1966.