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, 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. The story ends as Connie leaves her front porch; her eventual fate is left ambiguous.
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