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“Where Are You Going…” by Oates: An Analysis


Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been? is a short story written by Joyce Carol Oates in 1966. The narrative emphasizes the modern culture and norms of American society in the 1960s by telling a story of a 15 years old girl – Connie. The author uses various literary techniques, including metaphors, parallels with mythology, religious imagery, and allusions, to tell a modern tale of Death and the Maiden. Oates emphasizes Connie’s innocence throughout the story to contrast it with her eventual descent into the grim reality or “adulthood.” While the ending is ambiguous, it strongly suggests Connie’s downfall into madness, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. At the same time, Oates also focuses on the societal norms of 1960s America and discusses such themes as unconventional love and the role of authority in gender roles. Ultimately, Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been? is a modern iteration of Death and the Maiden story, which discusses crucial social issues, such as teenagers’ gender roles and transition into adulthood.

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Character Development and Mythology Parallels

Connie is the protagonist and the “Maiden” of the story who experiences a substantial transition from innocent and easy-going life into the darkest reality on the verge of a sexual assault. At the beginning of the narrative, Connie perceives her life from a positive perspective, enjoying her day-to-day parties and fantasizing about boys and love. She also has a tense relationship with her family, virtually demonstrating a lack of any type of authority in her life or parental role in her upbringing. As a result, Connie spends most of her time with boys and daydreams about love. Ultimately, Connie is the Maiden – an embodiment of innocence without a deep understanding of how cruel life can be.

On the other hand, the antagonist of the story – Arnold Friend – plays the role of the death or devil in the narrative. He is an older guy of approximately 30 years old, trying to diminish his age with a stylish outfit and teenage mannerisms. Oates transparently compares Friend to a devil due to his luring speech, omniscience, and indirect threats to supposedly assault Connie. Arguably, the pivotal point of the story is when Friend states, “You’re my date. I’m your lover, honey” (Oates 6). Both Connie and the reader acknowledge the extent of the danger, which quickly leads to panic and blurs the line between reality and fantasy. Thus, the author establishes the conflict between Friend and Connie, which resembles the classic story of Death and the Maiden.

Literary Devices

Oates uses various literary techniques to underline Connie’s fears and Friend’s evil nature. For instance, the author mentions that one of the Friend’s boots was “at a strange angle as if his foot wasn’t in it” (Oates 7). It potentially implies a bodily abnormality, further dehumanizes Friend and depicts him as a mysterious and evil superficial being. Oates also uses a technique of foreshadowing during the first encounter between the two characters. At the restaurant parking lot, Friend states, “gonna get you baby,” which discloses the ending of the story and Connie’s eventual acceptance to come with the devil (Oates 1). As a result, the author advances the narrative and creates tension and suspense via the intelligent usage of symbolism, metaphors, and foreshadowing.

Societal Norms and Modern Culture

Lastly, modern culture and music play a vital part in setting the story’s narrative and explaining the characters’ motives. Initially, Connie and Friend found a common interest in music while discussing Bobby King’s songs. Furthermore, there are many references to the rock genre throughout the story, setting the narrative’s mood. Gender roles and womanhood in 1960s America are also significant themes of the short story. Oates states that Connie likes spending time with boys more than girls, substantially emphasizing her dreams about love and adventures. Nevertheless, these fantasies are warm and innocent, revealing Connie’s positive interpretation of love and womanhood. On the other hand, Friend shatters these dreams through temptation and threats, eventually breaking down Connie’s bright understanding of love. Oates (8) depicts this transition vividly, “she felt her breath start jerking back and forth in her lungs as if it were something Arnold Friend was stabbing her with again and again with no tenderness.” In the end, Connie collapses and agrees to come with Friend, resulting in an ambiguous conclusion and, most likely, Connie’s death.


In Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been? Oates provides a modern interpretation of Death and the Maiden art tradition, which implies the corruption of a young girl by decline and decay. Connie’s initial understanding of love as something warm and happy transformed into fear, panic, and violence. While there can be many interpretations of the short story, Oates most likely wanted to demonstrate the harsh reality and the dangers that young girls might encounter in their lives. Consequently, music plays a vital part in the narrative and initially acts as a mediator between Connie and Friend, which probably represents Oates’s appreciation for modern culture. Ultimately, Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been? is an excellent example of a modern classic that concerns relevant social issues, such as gender roles and the transition into adulthood.

Work Cited

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

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