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“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

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There exist notable differences between the short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates and the film “Smooth Talk”(Chopra). The short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” was first published in the nineteen sixty-six fall edition of the Epoch Magazine. The story’s main character, Connie, a stunning, egoistic fifteenyear-old girl, who is constantly disagreeing with her motherand herordinary elder sister(Muktananda 125). Conniepasses most of her evenings picking up boys at a Big Boy restaurant to her parents oblivion. One day she catches the attention of an unfamiliar person in a gold convertible covered with mysterious writing. The story revolves an encounter between the antagonist, Arnold Friend, and the protagonist, Connie. The story’s end is ambiguous and leaves the reader in suspense on what happens to Connie after she goes back to Friend from her front porch. Her future is unclear per se. The story was reprinted in ‘The Wheel of Love and Other Stories’, in the year nineteen seventy. Smooth Talk on the other hand, is a drama film produced in the year nineteen eighty-five. It is built on Joyce Carol Oates’ short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” The film is directed by Joyce Chopra and produced by Martin Rosen. It is a ninety-six minute whose screen play was written by Tom Cole(Chopra). It was released on tenth September nineteen eighty-five. Laura Dern acts as Connie Wyatt while Treat Williams plays the part Arnold Friend in the film. The film is acted in the summer prior to Connie’s high school sophomore year. Essentially the single thing on Connie’s teenage mind is the opposite sex. Connie’s mother Katherine, played by Mary Kay Place, feels underappreciated by Connie and uses reproach as a mode to get by this. In one of her lines in the film, Katherine states, “I look into your eyesand all I see are a bunch of trashy daydreams.” Connie becomes emotionally distant. The film provides a link between Connie’s relationship with her mother and her behaviour. My goal in this essay is to bring out the contrasts depicted in the themes, tone, setting, style and the characters in the film and the short story.

First the core concepts brought out by the film and the short story differ slightly.The short story’s story line brings out reality allegory. It is based on a psychopath from the Southwest in the mid-sixties commonly known as ‘the pied piper of Tucson’. It is enthused by Charles Schmid, a man in his thirties, who committed the Tucson, Arizona murders by seducing teenage girls(Muktananda 128). Charles was reportedly a short man who wore rags in his boots to give him a taller appearance which caused him to walk unsteadily. This character is clearly brought out by Arnold friend by the way he imitated teenagers in talk, dress and comportment. On the contrary in the film, more details on Connie are provided than those in the book. The book gives an in depth of the life aspects of Connie and the hence audience is given a chance to relate more with the character in the film than the book.This makes it simpler to discount the story-line as a simple ‘date rape’ seduction film. The difference may be due to the extra impetus and content provided in the film aiming to convert the short story into a full-length feature film, which is quite the daunting task(Chopra). The director has however tried to maintain the ambiguity rendered in the original story.

Second, another evident contrast between the two works of literature is the focus on the relationship betweenConnie and her mother varies. Oates’ short story gives a detailed focus on Connie than it does to her mother. Her mother’s insolence towards her is a prime element to the story’s plot. In the story, Connie’s mother does not care much about her since she is jealous of Connie’s good looks and her youth(Muktananda 130). In the conversation about the Pettinger girl in the story, ‘oh, her. That dope’ and moves on. Reading on, Connie’smother is portrayed as simplistic and a person of few questions. However, in the film, the Pettinger girl scene involves Connie lashing back at her mother for continually interrogating her. Connie’s reaction angers her mother which leads her to strike Connie hard in the face. The film also portraysConnie’s mother as one who cares about her daughter though Connie persistently pushes her away. As the film proceeds, the mother consistently attempts to show Connie care and love but Connie does not acknowledge her. The slap on the face is probably a development of the story to make the impact of the reconciliation in the final scene more profound and vivid. The film gives detail to the mother daughter relationship showing that the mother recognized the stage Connie is at leading her to express anxiety and envy(Chopra). Audience is able to evaluate their relationship and the director successfully takes that scene to articulate the theme of family, specifically mother-daughter relationship.

Another contrast is in the core theme that the story line of the film and the story revolve around. Some thematic aspects between the two works give significant distinctions of the movie and the book. The central event of the story is the dramatic encounter between Friend and Connie. One hot Sunday afternoon, Connie is alone at home having boycotted barbeque at her aunt’s. Twomen pull up in her drive way in an open jalopy, commonly known as a convertible in the present age(Muktananda 132). She recognizes one of them form the previous night at the mall though she is familiar with neither. She converses with Arnold, the driver of the convertible through the screen door of her family’s house. The passenger is introduced as Ellie, who readers perceive of as Friends sidekick. Something seems suspiciously aloof with the two men. Arnold’s language has a rambling patter which seems outdated as he is trying too hard to act as a teenager though he is older. He is donned in 1950s attire and he seems to have difficulty walking in his boots. His head also seems to be covered in a wig. He somehow convinces Connie to hang up the phone and threatened to burn the house to the ground if she defies. He also appeals to her vanity by saying that they are not fit to hang out with her probably in what is referred to a reverse psychology. Eventually, she agrees to join them in their 1960s convertible, which has cryptic writings on it, for a ride. On the contrary, the main theme brought out by the film is the background stories of Connie and her friends and family(Muktananda 126). The film also tries to bring out how Friend has such detailed and accurate knowledge on Connie such that it surprises her, an element that is not brought out in the story. It shows friend interrogating one of Connie’s friends about her.

Finally, there exists a difference between the conclusions of the film and the story. The books conclusion suggests a gloomy end though vague. Connie simply walks out of her house through her front porch to Arnold Friend, who lures her into the murky unknown. The book’s title could be a reflection of the myriad questions running through Connie’s mind including ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ On the other hand in the film, Friend brings Connie back home to her family. She also expressly states her desire never to see him again. When she gets back home, Connie is panicky and unkempt. When her family gets back from her aunts barbeque, her mother senses her conversion and apologizes for slapping her before enveloping Connie in an embrace. Her father is, as usual, oblivious of what is transpiring. June asks Connie what happened but she responds, “I don’t know. Maybe I did not go. Maybe I am going out of my mind. It didn’t even happen.” Connie dances with her elder sister June to “Handy Man” as recorded by James Taylor which is playing on the phonograph. This conclusion, unlike that of the story, portrays a gleam of hope for Connie’s future. There is reconciliation between Connie and her family. Connie and her mother who are constantly arguing are also portrayed as happy together.

In conclusion, I would deem the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates better than the film “Smooth Talk”. The two art works both have great theme and character development and the appeal for the audience. However, the short story is more developed than the film because the audience can easily relate with the events in the short story. The film directors have attempted to convert the renowned story into a film making it lose its authenticity and its original message. The film lacks all the necessary art work that would make it communicate to the audience effectively. This has been made possible by changes, retrievals and additions made to the original story making it lose its dynamism. The film also kills the creativity of the story brought out when the booklover reads the original story. The original books articulates issues, characters and themes in a more profound way than how the film does. Though the directors have tried to preserve the ambiguity of the story as per the original version, it is still slightly corrupted of its intended message and major theme. This is also the case observed when other books and stories such as ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, ‘Twilight’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ have attempted to be turned into movies.


Muktananda, Swami. Where Are You Going?: A Guide to the Spiritual Journey. third . Chicago: Siddha Yoga Publications, 2012. Document.

Smooth Talk. Dir. Joyce Chopra. Perf. Treat William and Laura Dem. 2014. Disc.

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