Refutation Of A Literary Review On

“Joyce Carol Oate’s Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Essay, Research Paper


Marie Mitchell Olesen Urbanski reflects on the parallels between a literary work and biblical suggestions in her essay ?Existential Allegory: Joyce Carol Oates ?Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?? (Studies in Short Fiction, 1978.) In her criticism, she compares the story of Connie?s passive submission to Arnold Friend with the seduction of Eve by the Devil in the biblical myth. She uses Oates? descriptions of Arnold friend to prove that he is the devil and that Connie is an innocent victim.

Urbanski does a convincing job of comparing the story of Connie and Arnold to the story of Eve and the Devil. She emphasizes religious metaphors that Oates used in her story, such as the local hang out representing a sacred building with music played religiously as at a church service. Urbanski slips however by stating ?It is apparent that Friend represents the devil who tempts the chaste yet morally vacuous girl-victim.? It may be argued that Arnold Friend resembles the devil in some ways, but Urbanski fails to give sufficient evidence for this claim, and more importantly, fails to acknowledge the many other possibilities for Arnold Friend?s identity.

Urbanski easily compares Friend to other literary figures. She encounters a problem however when she labels Arnold as Satan simply because it resembles another description of Satan in John Milton?s works. Her argument becomes faulty because of a fallacy of composition. She says that Milton?s Satan, who sits straight with dark eyes and a dark gold neck, is the same as Arnold Friend because he has slitted eyes with dark lashes, a muscular neck and sits atop a golden jalopy. Simply the use of dark eyes and the color gold does not imply that one is the devil. What may be true for Milton?s Satan does not necessarily apply to all other works.

The example of Arnold Friend?s feet not fitting correctly into his boots and associating that with the cloven feet of the devil, also strikes a faulty chord. Urbanski cannot show any proof of the cause for Friend?s feet looking odd because Oates never gives a clear reason for his shoes not fitting correctly. Arnold Friend could be an evil midget, trying to get with Connie to pursue malicious intentions; Simply because one?s shoes do not fit, does not mean that one is Satan. Urbanski does not attempt to give another option to the possibilities of Arnold?s reality. She contends that Arnold?s captivating manipulation is evidence of a superhuman representation. I agree with her argument that Arnold is indeed superhuman, but I strongly disagree with her attempt to label Arnold as one specific force of evil. The facts that Joyce Carol Oates offers to us in her story are that Arnold has shaggy black hair, a tan face and pale body, wears mirrored sunglasses, and his boots fit incorrectly. By those facts, I could infer that Arnold is a man with a bad toupee, using self tanner, and going through his midlife crisis. By his actions and words I am able to add a supernatural force to his appearance and then fully decide that he isn?t like any other person or thing Connie has met before. Simply by his actions and appearance though, I do not have enough evidence to prove that Arnold is in fact the devil.

In her conclusion, Urbanski offers a grander approach to the symbolism of the characters. She explains that Connie represents everyone realizing their insignificance, and Arnold?s representing the furies as a vehicle for that realization. In symbolism of both those characters, I agree with Urbanski. I do believe also that they are representations of a bigger picture that is evident in most people?s existence, and by Oates? depiction of it, more severely in suburban life. Still, in the same conclusion, she adheres to her argument of Arnold being an apparent representation of the devil.

I am not able to give a definite idea of what Arnold friend may be; still I cannot agree with simply calling him the devil. To me, he can be seen as a devil just as much as he can be seen as a goblin, warlock or some other evil being. In the same sense, I could argue that Arnold is Connie?s hero, saving her from the blindness and sadness of her humdrum life. Arnold?s appearance can be seen as evil and scary, but appearances are so often misleading. Joyce Carol Oates has said ?Arnold Friend is a fantastic figure: he is Death, he is the ?elf-knight? of the ballads, he is the Imagination, he is a Dream, he is a Lover, a Demon, and all that.? (Fiction 100 p. 1113) For Marie Urbanski to state that Arnold is the devil seems to show a shallow view of Oates? magical story and not give enough credit to a wonderfully complex antagonist.

1. Urbanski, Mari Mitchell Olesen. ?Existential Allegory: Joyce Carol Oates ?Where

Are You Going? Where Have You Been??? Studies in Short Fiction. Newberry College. 1978. 200-03

2. Pickering, James. Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Stories. New Jersey: Prentice

Hall, 1998


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