It is important to note that the story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates addresses a wide range of critical and key topics, such as narcissism, deception, manipulation, and reality versus appearance. The given analysis will primarily focus on the deceptive interactions between Connie and Arnold, emphasizing how Connie was fooled and pressured to comply with the man’s requests. In sum, the story is about an adolescent girl named Connie, who becomes fooled by an older man called Arnold, where the latter seeks to sexually assault, rape, and possibly murder her by using flattery and manipulation. The thesis is that Connie was only partly fooled by Arnold Friend, and for the most part, she realized the danger of riding with him, but her self-conscious duality also partially enables her foolishness to work against her.
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Connie and Narcissism
One should note that from the very beginning of the story, there is a clear indication that Connie is a narcissist who is excessively self-absorbed with her own appearance. This element creates a distinct duality in her personality and overall being, where she appears to be naïve on the outside but highly self-consumed on the inside. The story states: “She was fifteen, and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right. Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn’t much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it” (Oates 1). The given statement reveals two important detail about Connie, which is the fact that she is self-conscious, making her susceptible to seek out self-validation, and she has a troubled or strained relationship with her mother. In other words, the author of the writing sets up the main character and victim with a clear flaw, which is narcissism.
The second argument is rooted in the fact that Connie was only partly fooled by Arnold because the latter was perceived positively in the beginning by the girl. The story states: “she couldn’t decide if she liked him or if he was just a jerk, and so she dawdled in the doorway and wouldn’t come down or go back inside” (Oates 3). In other words, it is clear that the first impression given by Arnold was not a completely negative one since Connie was indecisive about the man. The author also writes that “Connie liked the way he was dressed, which was the way all of them dressed: tight faded jeans stuffed into black, scuffed boots, a belt that pulled his waist in and showed how lean he was, and a white pull-over shirt that was a little soiled and showed the hard small muscles of his arms and shoulders” (Oates 4). Therefore, the antagonist is presented as likable solely through his appearance and in Connie’s taste. Therefore, these elements of the story justify the fact that the protagonist was fooled by Arnold since he was able to partially charm her.
Awareness of the Situation
The third argument will primarily focus on establishing the fact that Connie was also aware of the situation, which supports the fact that she was only partly fooled by Arnold, but for the most, was realizing the strangeness and inappropriateness of the interaction. The story states: “she could see then that he wasn’t a kid, he was much older—thirty, maybe more. At this knowledge her heart began to pound faster” (Oates 5). In other words, despite Arnold trying to convince her that he is her age, it was evident for Connie that it was not the case. The fact that her heart started pounding heavily is an indicator of her awareness of the dangers of the situation. Throughout the story, Connie showed a clear understanding of the notion of Arnold being a threat.
Susceptibility of Connie
The last argument will address the susceptibility of Connie to Arnold’s manipulative tactics, which are flattery and threats. Since the main protagonist a self-conscious and narcissistic individual, she is vulnerable to flattery. For example, Arnold states: “she’s too fat. I don’t like them fat. I like them the way you are, honey” (Oates 6). In other words, he constantly compliments her on her looks and thus, supports her view of her mother and sister. However, Arnold also threatens her with a clear indication of malice by stating: “soon as you touch the phone I don’t need to keep my promise and can come inside. You won’t want that” (Oates 7). Therefore, the antagonist tries to convince Connie with charm at first but begins to use ultimatums invoking fear by in order to achieve his goal. Such a duality of going back and forth with flattery and threats clouds the girl’s thinking and judgment of the situation. The author writes: “something roared in her ear, a tiny roaring, and she was so sick with fear that she could do nothing but listen to it—the telephone was clammy and very heavy and her fingers groped down to the dial but were too weak to touch it” (Oates 8). Thus, it is important to note that fear was somewhat intoxicating her, making her paralyzed in terms of taking decisive actions.
It is important to note that fear alone would not have made Connie fully susceptible to Arnold’s tricks. The combination of flattery and threats utilized by the antagonist is what made her come out of the house. Towards the end of the story, Connie was completely incapacitated in terms of not being able to make a decision for herself, where all of her actions were being made by Arnold. For example, when the latter was politely and deceptively instructing Connie to pick the phone up, it is stated that “she picked it up and put it back. The dial tone stopped” (Oates 8). Therefore, her susceptibility is manifested in the fact that she gave Arnold enough power and dominance over her through her love of flattery, which enabled the man’s manipulative strategies to work.
In conclusion, Connie was fooled by Arnold only partly, but, for the most, she was fully aware of the dangers of the situation from the start. She was not completely ignorant or deceived about Arnold’s age, intentions, and fake façade. However, her susceptibility to flattery and compliments made her reluctant to act decisively, which gave Arnold enough opportunities to manipulate her to come out of the house. Therefore, the story explores how one’s inner tendencies can be abused to cloud one’s judgement through deception and fear.
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Oates, Joyce C. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? The Seagull Book of Stories 4th Edition, 1966.