Connie, the story’s young protagonist, navigates adolescence by adopting two personas: one for her home life and another, more sexualized and polished, for her public life. Her life is defined by her relationship to boys or men; romance fills her thoughts and her reunions with other girls are simply a pretext for approaching boys. Reflecting the sexualized culture she finds herself in, Connie prizes beauty above all. Her main interaction with the wider culture occurs through music, which constitutes a sort of secular religion for her. Despite her experiments with adulthood and sexuality, Connie is still very much a child: when faced with imminent harm, she cries out for her mother. Her fragile identity, already split into two personas, completely fractures when Arnold Friend threatens her.
Arnold Friend, the story’s primary antagonist, is a strange and ambiguous character. Theorized to be a devil and a savior, a very real psychopath and a supernatural being, Arnold Friend’s identity is unclear. While Connie’s character is rooted in her emotions, relationships, and history, Arnold Friend simply appears, without a background. Throughout the story it becomes clear he is not who he pretends to be: he sports a wig, stuffs his boots, and paints his face. More disturbingly, he is a couple decades older than what he claims to be. Arnold Friend is skilled in manipulation, using Connie’s vanity and curiosity to lure her into a conversation where he can assert control over her. His intentions, usually interpreted as rape and murder by critics, are almost certainly malevolent.
Ellie Oscar serves as Arnold Friend’s largely silent sidekick, sitting in the car and listening to the radio for most of the story’s action. Eventually he offers to cut Connie’s phone line, bolstering Arnold Friend’s ambiguous and seductive verbal threats with the possibility of real, physical violence. Like his partner, Ellie Oscar is significantly older than her first appears.
June serves as a foil for her sister Connie. Where Connie is flighty, social, and pretty, June is steadfast, quiet, and plain. Connie’s mother constantly compares her daughters, engendering a significant amount of resentment between the two.
Connie’s Mother was once beautiful like her daughter but is now a tired housewife shuffling around in house slippers. She seems to resent Connie’s looks, constantly criticizing her daughter for acting like a rather typical teenage girl. Despite praising June, Connie’s mother apparently prefers Connie for her beauty and popularity.
Connie’s Father is notable for his absence in the story. He does not form a real part of Connie’s family dynamic: he avoids talking to his wife and daughters, sitting silently and reading the newspaper. He does not seem to be involved in Connie’s life at all.
Becky isn’t even named in the story until Arnold Friend identifies her when threatening Connie. She is supposedly Connie’s closest friend, yet their activities revolve exclusively around courting boys. Like Connie, she is portrayed as a more or less typical teenager.
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Study Guide for Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? study guide contains a biography of Joyce Carol Oates, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis of the short story Where are You Going, Where Have You Been.
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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of the short story Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates.