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Characters in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” is a famous short story by Joyce Carol Oates wrote in the 1960s. The story centers around Connie, an attractive girl aged fifteen that has a relentless focus on her appearance and gets in trouble after meeting a predatory man named Arnold. Considering different interpretations of the story and the girl’s encounter with Arnold, Connie can be regarded as a self-absorbed but deeply insecure girl that seeks external approval and displays suggestibility.

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Connie possesses a range of negative character traits, such as vanity and superficiality. Despite liking her face, she constantly compares it to the faces of those surrounding her just to make sure that she looks good (Oates 1). This vanity and her “nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors” make Connie’s mother annoyed and worried about her daughter’s future (Oates 1). The mother keeps scolding and criticizing Connie to bring her down to earth, but it does not seem to have any effects on the girl. Connie remains firm in her belief that she is pretty and does not need anything else in life (Oates 1). Therefore, in the story, Connie is presented as a person that is too focused on the first impression that she makes on people and does not care about other, more meaningful values.

The girl faces issues at home, which probably explains her willingness to engage in risky behaviors and use her attractiveness to gain acceptance from others. Apart from quarrels with her mother, Connie is in strong opposition to the lifestyle of June, her sister. June possesses all qualities to be called a good daughter, and Connie is tired of being compared to her “plain, chunky, and steady” sister and losing in this comparison (Oates 1). Despite living a boring life, June always receives positive attention from her mother and aunts, which probably causes Connie to feel useless and decreases her motivation to do anything. Worse still, Connie’s father also fails to fulfill the girl’s need for attention and help her to feel worthy and find any interests and hobbies apart from going out with boys. Connie has a father, but he is not her role model since he does nothing to protect Connie from her mother’s unending reproaches and “does not bother talking much” to his family (Oates 1). Thus, Connie’s relationships with her family are far from love and acceptance.

Connie is deeply insecure behind the façade of her narcissistic habits and self-absorption and desperately searches for good ways to attract others’ attention and feel worthy. She keeps checking whether her face looks good enough, which is a sign of her constant need for validation, at least in the form of compliments for appearance. Like a chameleon, she changes her appearance and the way to walks when being in places where she can get male attention. Based on her communication with Eddie, it is quite normal for Connie to go on dates with boys that she does not know well enough. Being the center of attention gives her “the pure pleasure of being alive” and helps her to use the only thing that she likes about herself to get validation (Oates 1). On her evenings out with her best friend, Connie’s laugher instantly becomes “high-pitched and nervous” (Oates 1). It probably gives away her obsession with how she is seen by others and a fervent desire to hit the taste of the boys that surround her.

Unfortunately, Connie’s insecurity, desire to receive admiration, and certain naivety make her a perfect target for Arnold Friend’s manipulations. When Connie is alone at home, Arnold shows up near her house with a friend, and she realizes that she has seen him before. Despite noticing strange inconsistencies between the man’s claimed age and his actual behaviors, Connie fails to end the conversation before it is too late and gradually becomes ready to follow his instructions. A skilled manipulator, Arnold sees Connie’s pressure points and easily distracts her from worrying thoughts by saying that she is “such a pretty girl” and puts on some music that she likes (Oates 4). Eventually, Connie finds herself in a difficult situation since she receives threats from Arnold and does not know what to do next. Being young and naïve, she is unable to withstand his pressure and finally calls the police.

If understood as an allegory for Connie’s encounter with something bad and forbidden, the scene with Arnold probably hints at Connie’s responsiveness to suggestion and the absence of a moral roadmap. To some degree, Arnold Friend can be the representation of a devil that seduces people into doing something harmful and wrong. Although she feels the danger, the illusion that she is “better than them” (her family) and the inability to make herself sober finally cause Connie to fall victim to something bad (Oates 9). Despite her superficial confidence, Connie does not have the strength to prevent herself from being mesmerized by something bad under disguise.

To sum up, despite being self-absorbed, the main character has no true feeling of self-worth and does not always make choices that are the best for her. Without love and support from her family, the girl uses her attractiveness to improve her feelings about herself and feel needed. Connie’s encounter with Arnold, especially if it is not interpreted directly, indicates her suggestibility and the absence of the force of character.

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Work Cited

Oates, Joyce Carol. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? 1966, Web.

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StudyCorgi. "Characters in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates." April 12, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/characters-in-where-are-you-going-where-have-you-been-by-joyce-carol-oates/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Characters in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates." April 12, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/characters-in-where-are-you-going-where-have-you-been-by-joyce-carol-oates/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Characters in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates'. 12 April.

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