Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Imagery

The Idea of Love

“But all the boys fell back and dissolved into a single face that was not even a face but an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent, insistent pounding of the music and the humid night air of July.” (3)

Joyce Carol Oates uses vivid language to explain Connie’s romantic daydreams. Her sexual desires are not yet tied to concrete acts or specific men; Connie is attracted not to any one boy but to the idea of love and sex. Oates helps the reader visualize the girl’s discrete experiences fading into a deeper impulse. The references to “insistent pounding” and “humid night air” seem to invoke something primal. Under the spell of puberty, Connie is being pulled by desires and forces that are not entirely conscious or explicable.

The Slippery Smile

“She recognized most things about him, the tight jeans that showed his thighs and buttocks and the greasy leather boots and the tight shirt, and even that slippery friendly smile of his, that sleepy dreamy smile that all the boys used to get across ideas they didn’t want to put into words.” (8)

Oates uses language to focus on Arnold Friend’s physical presence, employing the words “thighs” and “buttocks” in order to show his sexual nature. The repetition of the word tight serves to bring attention to his physical form, much like his clothes. Oates emphasizes Arnold Friend’s “slippery friendly smile” by immediately invoking it again as a “sleepy dreamy smile.” The use of an “sl” sound at the begin of each phrase helps reinforce the idea of something slick—think of sleazy, slippery, slimy, slide, slip: the letters “sl” are associated with slickness. Arnold Friend uses his slick smile to communicate the sexual desires that would seem obscene if said aloud.


“She thought for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that wasn’t really hers either.” (14)

Oates describes Connie’s beating heart as an autonomous being, “a living thing” that simply resides inside Connie, but is not a part of her. The word “thing” powerfully emphasizes the heart’s seemingly alien nature. This imagery helps express Connie’s dissociative state; she feels alienated from her physical body, which she perceives as not being “really hers either.” This state and feeling of separation from one’s self demonstrates Connie’s slipping control over her own actions and decisions. It is not Connie who decides to walk out the door to meet Arnold; her body chooses, leaving her behind to watch herself step through the entryway.