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“Where Are You going? Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1040
  • Category: Symbolism

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In the short story “Where Are You going? Where Have You Been?”, by Joyce Carol Oates. The use of the symbolism of Connie’s clothes, her fascination with her beauty, Arnold Friend’s car and Arnold Friend himself help to understand the story’s theme of evil and manipulation. The story, fill with underlying tones of evil. In this short story, Oates write about 15-year-old Connie, the protagonist of the story, a pretty girl who is a little too into her own attractiveness, which eventually gets her into trouble with a man named Arnold Friend. The story is liberally full with symbolism, from the way Connie dresses to the shoes on Arnold Friend’s feet. In “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” As i was reading the story, I picked up on some of the symbols very easily, while others needed deeper thought. The subtle hints of symbolism throughout the story create a fascinating tale that draws people in. Connie finally surrender to Arnold Friend at the end of the story, it then becomes obvious that he represents the devil and the symbolism of her clothing and Arnold’s car all tie together to create a better understanding of the story.

Connie’s clothes and infatuation with her own beauty symbolize her lack of maturity or knowing her true self, which in the end enables her to be manipulated by Arnold Friend. Connie was in love with her own beauty. In the beginning of the story Oates states that Connie “knew she was pretty and that was everything” (323). This captivation with herself along with the constant looking in the mirrors and thinking her mother was only pestering her all the time because her mother’s own good looks were long gone by now (323) shows a sign of immaturity because she believes everything revolves around whether or not someone is beautiful. Connie had two sides to her, which is most personified in her clothing and the way she makes it look one way at home and a different way when she is out (324). Everything about her had one side for home and one side for public, from the way she walked to her laugh (324). These two sides of her symbolize lack of knowing herself, because she could not decide whether to be the girl that she was when she was out, or the girl that she portrayed when she was at home. This immaturity and not being sure of who she is allows Arnold Friend to manipulate and overpower Connie by the end of the story.

Arnold Friend’s car symbolizes warnings to Connie, inscribed on the car is a cryptic code and words that if you thought about it intently they have deeper meanings of evil. Arnold’s car has numbers on it that he refers to as a “secret code” (328), these numbers are 33,19 and 17. These numbers can be interpreted as Arnold’s age; Connie even guessed around 30 for his age (330) and the ages of his previous victims. Connie is 15 years old in the story, if his last two victims were 19 and 17 he could be starting to form a pattern with ages. Arnold has intentions of making Connie a victim. The way Oates’ writes about how Arnold is smiling as if he had ideas that he would not put into words and the way he told Connie he wanted to make her his lover (332). The way he addresses her is very sexual and seductive. “Yes, I’m your lover. You don’t know what that is but you will” (332) I feel like he came there with the intent of doing something bad or terrible to Connie. Connie even had the idea that Arnold had come from nowhere before he drove up to her driveway and he did not really belong anywhere either (331). The words and numbers written on Arnold’s car combined with the evil that Arnold himself display cause Connie to become concerned, but in the end she cannot escape him.

In “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” Arnold Friend symbolizes the devil. he diffuse evil from his name, to the way he looks and the way he speaks. When Oates describes his appearance the reader can see a creepy parallel to the devil. Connie notices that Arnold’s neck is muscular, the way his nose sniffed towards her and the way he slid out of the car ( 328, 329) are all similar to the devil in his snake-like form. The devil took the form of a snake to coax Eve into taking the forbidden fruit. Arnold was there to coax Connie into doing “forbidden” things. When you takes away the “r” in Arnold, his name becomes “an old friend”, which in the Bible usually means the devil.

Connie noticed that Arnold’s boots looked like they didn’t have feet in them and he kept tripping when he tried to walk (333), the devil is said to have hooves for feet. Arnold knew about Connie’s family and what they were doing at that very moment (332) using one’s family to make someone do what he wants is a trademark of the devil. When you think about all of the things that are parallel between Arnold and the devil, it sends a chill up the spine. Arnold Friend radiates evil. He has evil intentions and evil behind every aspect of his being.

Oates’ use of the way Arnold looks and acts so similar to the devil, her use of the words on the car meaning something foreign and her subtle symbolism with Connie’s attire make the story’s theme of evil and manipulation stand out so much more. Connie’s clothing symbolizing the lack of knowing her true self lets Arnold Friend overpower her in the end. The words and letters on Arnold’s car symbolize warnings that Connie should have picked up on. Because Arnold symbolizes the devil, the evil inside of him gives him advantages to manipulate Connie into leaving her house, despite everything inside of Connie screaming at her not to go. The symbolisms in these objects or people are all deeply rooted to the theme of this short story, “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?”

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