Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?


"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is a frequently anthologized short story written by Joyce Carol Oates. The story first appeared in the Fall 1966 edition of Epoch magazine. It was inspired by four Tucson, Arizona murders committed by Charles Schmid, which were profiled in Life magazine in an article written by Don Moser on March 4, 1966. Oates said that she dedicated the story to Bob Dylan because she was inspired to write it after listening to his song "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."[1]


The story was originally named "Death and the Maiden". The main character of Oates' story is Connie, a beautiful, self-absorbed 15-year-old girl, who is at odds with her mother—once a beauty herself—and with her dutiful, "steady", and homely older sister. Without her parents' knowledge, she spends most of her evenings picking up boys at a Big Boy restaurant, and one evening captures the attention of a stranger in a gold convertible covered with cryptic writing. While her parents are away at her aunt's barbecue, two men pull up in front of Connie's house and call her out. She recognizes the driver, Arnold Friend, as the man from the drive-in restaurant, and is initially charmed by the smooth-talking, charismatic stranger. He tells Connie he is 18 and has come to take her for a ride in his car with his sidekick Ellie. Connie slowly realizes that he is actually much older,[2] and grows afraid. When she refuses to go with them, Friend becomes more forceful and threatening, saying that he will harm her family, while at the same time appealing to her vanity, saying that she is too good for them. Connie is compelled to leave with him and do what he demands of her.

Critical review

Considerable academic analysis has been written about the story, with scholars divided on whether it is intended to be taken literally or as allegory. Several writers focus on the series of numbers written on Friend's car, which he indicates are a code of some sort, but which is never explained:

"'Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey,' Arnold Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 and raised his eyebrows at her to see what she thought of that, but she didn't think much of it." (p. 41)

Literary scholars have interpreted this series of numbers as different Biblical references,[2][3] as an underlining of Friend's sexual deviancy,[4] or as a reference to the ages of Friend and his victims.[2]

The narrative has also been viewed as an allegory for initiation into sexual adulthood,[5] an encounter with the devil, a critique of modern youth's obsession with sexual themes in popular music,[6] or as a dream sequence.[7]


The story was loosely adapted into the 1985 film Smooth Talk, starring Laura Dern and Treat Williams.[8] Oates has written an essay named "Smooth Talk: Short Story into Film" about the adaptation.

The short story is the inspiration and basis for The Blood Brothers' song "The Salesman, Denver Max".

  1. ^ Oates, J.C. & Showalter, E. (1994). "Introduction". Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been. Rutgers University Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-8135-2135-1. 
  2. ^ a b c Pinewski, David (Spring 1991). "Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'". Explicator. 49 (3): 195–196.  |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  3. ^ Robson, Mark (Summer 1982). "Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'". The Explicator. 40: 59–60. 
  4. ^ Hurley, C. Harold (Winter 1987). "Cracking the Secret Code in Oats's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been'". Studies in Short Fiction. 24 (1): 62–66. 
  5. ^ Urbanski, Marie Mitchell Olesen (1978). "Existential Allegory: Joyce Carol Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'". Studies in Short Fiction. 15: 200–203.  |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  6. ^ Petry, Alice Hall (Spring 1988). "Who Is Ellie? Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'". Studies in Short Fiction. 25 (2): 155–157.  |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  7. ^ Rubin, Larry (Summer 1984). "Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'". Explicator. 42 (4): 57–59.  |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  8. ^ Dickinson, P. (July 2008). "Riding in Cars with Boys: Reconsidering 'Smooth Talk'". Literature Film Quarterly. 36 (3): 202–214.  |access-date= requires |url= (help)
External links
  • Complete text on Celestial Timepiece, an authorized Joyce Carol Oates Home Page

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