Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Metaphors and Similes

Connie's Laugh

“…her laugh, which was cynical and drawling at home—“Ha, ha, very funny,”—but highpitched and nervous anywhere else, like the ringing of the charms on her bracelet.” (2)

Oates uses a simile to effectively contrast Connie’s behavior, in this instance her laughter, at home and in public. The image of a jingling charm bracelet, often associated with teenaged girls, encourages readers to imagine Connie’s laugh as feminine and youthful. This contrasts with the more masculine “cynical and drawling" laugh she employs at home. The dual laughs exemplify the split in Connie’s personality. She has developed two personas: one she uses with her family and another used to explore her budding sexuality and ideas of womanhood.

The Sacred Building

“They went up through the maze of parked and cruising cars to the bright-lit, fly-infested restaurant, their faces pleased and expectant as if they were entering a sacred building that loomed up out of the night to give them what haven and blessing they yearned for.” (2)

Religious language emphasizes the centrality of the mediocre fast-food restaurant in Connie and Becky’s social and cultural world. To the reader the “fly-infested” burger joint is decidedly common; Oates elevates it by demonstrating the reverence with which it is treated. To the girls it is a “sacred building” where they can interact with boys and listen to music, which is described elsewhere in similarly quasi-religious language. Oates is describing the secular religion of a teenaged American, suburban culture. Instead of going to church, Connie visits a chain restaurant; instead of praying, she listens to music.

A Male Predator

“And his face was a familiar face, somehow: the jaw and chin and cheeks slightly darkened because he hadn’t shaved for a day or two, and the nose long and hawklike, sniffing as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up and it was all a joke.” (6)

Oates compares Arnold Friend to a hawk, a bird of prey, and insinuates he would like to eat Connie, reinforcing the connection between him and a natural predator. The use of the word “sniffing” adds to the animalistic impression of Arnold Friend; one can imagine him smelling Connie as a dog might sniff at its food. Connie senses his predatory nature and even intuits that she is his prey, but remains unconcerned because his look is familiar to her. Arnold Friend may represent a particularly violent and aggressive hunter, but Connie lives in a world where men regularly look to victimize women.

Unnatural Boots

“One of his boots was at a strange angle, as if his foot wasn’t in it.” (11)

Oates describes Arnold Friend’s ill-fitting boots by suggesting that it appears as if his foot isn’t inside it. This suggestion is highly disturbing, seeming to insinuate some kind of bodily deformity or abnormality; the simile leaves readers to imagine what could possibly explain the unnatural angle of Arnold Friend’s boot. As the cracks begin to show in his carefully cultivated façade, the reader begins to wonder if the villain is something more, or perhaps less, than human. Some critics have suggested that cloven hooves account for the skewed boots. Oates’ simile obliquely suggests that something unnatural is occurring, encouraging reader confusion and speculation.

Cardboard House

“‘This place you are now—inside your daddy’s house—is nothing but a cardboard box I can knock down any time.’”(13)

Arnold Friend threatens Connie, explaining that her home, and by implication her father, cannot protect her from him. The comparison to a flimsy cardboard box illustrates just how precarious Connie’s situation has become. In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” the home represents the world of family and tradition. When Arnold Friend is threatening to collapse Connie’s home, he is threatening her childhood world. The social and cultural upheaval of mid-century America led many to perceive traditional mores and values as under siege from outside forces. Here an external threat, Arnold Friend, boasts that Connie’s traditional parents and home cannot protect her.