?Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Essay, Research Paper
Joyce Carol Oates intrigues readers in her fictional piece “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by examining the life of a fifteen year old girl. She is beautiful, and her name is Connie. Oates lets the reader know that “everything about her [Connie] had two sides to it, one for home, and one for anywhere but home (27). When Connie goes out, she acts and dresses more mature than she probably should. However, when she is at home, she spends the majority of her time absorbed with daydreams “about the boys she met”(28). This daydreaming behavior is observable to the reader throughout the story. From theories about dreams, theories about subconscious thought, and the clues that Oates provides, the reader is lead to believe that Connie’s experience with Arnold Friend is a nightmare used to awaken her to the consequences that her behavior could result in.
Have you ever experienced a dream or a nightmare that seemed like reality? Most people in the world today would say that they have. Although this realistic dream experience does not occur often, when it does, clear distinctions are hard to make between the dream and reality. Theories exist that explain dreams as our subconscious
thoughts delving into our minds to make us reflect upon feelings or experiences that we neglect in life when awake. Connie often flirts with her feelings about sexual encounters. In fact, Larry Rubin believes that “Connie’s intense desire for a sexual experience runs head long into her innate fear of having such an experience” (58). Connie’s tendency to eventually dismiss these fears forces the reader to make the connection between her experience with Arnold Friend and a nightmare.
Since dreams and nightmares are both believed to represent our repressed thoughts, it would make sense that Arnold Friend “certainly represents her [Connie’s] fear of sex” (Gratz 55). Her knowledge of her beauty allows her to draw attention to it from many guys of many ages. She loves the attention that she gets from these boys, and that often seduces her into the decisions that she makes. Her first encounter with Arnold Friend occurs when she is in the car with one of the boys she met, Eddie. She glances to her right and sees Arnold, in his car, staring at her. Arnold spoke with his lips to tell her “Gonna get you, baby”, and perhaps it is this threat that causes Connie to symbolize him as a jeopardy to her innocence that the reader sees in her nightmare (Oates 28).
The encounter that Connie experiences with Arnold Friend involves a series of events that would lead someone to believe that he in fact was a figment of her subconscious, or a nightmare. Before their rendezvous, Connie had been sitting “with her eyes closed in the sun”, daydreaming (29). This is the first clue Oates presents the reader to show that Connie falls asleep. In addition to this, when Connie “opened her eyes she hardly knew where she was” (29). When a person is involved in a dream, it is common that they
bring familiar faces and places into their minds. Again, this involves the concept of the recurrence of subconscious thought that is entwined with dreams. D.F. Hurley feels that “sleeping (or dozing), then waking (or seeming to awaken), then experiencing a visual alienation from the familiar and the familial (often expressed as the “shrinkage” of the previously known)” are all “characteristic of dream vision tales” (373). It is noticeable that the warmth that the sun provides allows an easy transition from daydreaming to sleeping. This is only the first example of Oates interesting method of bringing the reader into the beginning of Connie’s dream.
When Connie began to overheat while bathing in the sun, she decided to go inside. Oates lets the reader know that “she sat on the edge of her bed…for an hour and a half…and lay languidly about in the airless little room, [she] breathed in and breathed out with each gentle rise and fall of her chest” (29). Deep, rhythmic breaths are a strong characteristic of sleep. Hurley believes that Oates uses “enough liquid consonants to furnish a lullaby” in her description of Connie’s rest (374). Shortly after this description, Oates jumps to Connie’s encounter with Arnold Friend.
The first read of their encounter leads the reader to follow the story as if it is reality. However, the more the story is read, the easier it becomes for the reader to see Connie’s entangling of reality through her daydreams. This also leads the reader to question whether this encounter was actually reality, and to begin thinking that the experience is actually just a nightmare.
On the surface, Connie thinks about the boys she meets, the music she hears, and how beautiful she is. However, her subconscious thoughts could include fears she has of the consequences of her behavior. The possibilities of consequences she may suffer are virtually endless, ranging from getting caught in a lie, to being taken advantage of and possibly killed. The worst case scenario is the latter of the two options provided, and perhaps that is why the story twists into a nightmare of a similar nature. Connie needs to awaken herself to the realities behind her careless actions. This nightmare could be a culmination of these subconscious thoughts along with feelings of guilt that she may have overlooked.
Arnold Friend seems to know quite a lot about Connie, especially for someone she has never even met. Connie’s whole encounter with Arnold Friend is “patched together, as dreams are, of people she has seen (Arnold Friend looks like the boy who frightened her the night before), familiar sounds (his voice is the voice on the radio), personal information (the names of her friends), and her own attitudes” (Gillis 56). This familiarity that Connie experiences at first with Arnold does not last long.
Connie’s house is a symbol of her childhood, and a place of safety for her to escape to. However, when Connie enters the kitchen, and it is “like a place she had never seen before” that “wasn’t going to help her” (Oates 34). It is through this description of the kitchen that Oates exhibits Connie’s realization that her family does not protect her actions. She is going to have to take responsibility for her own actions. This realization is enforced when Arnold Friend reminds Connie that her parents are not going to be coming to her rescue. He also deprives her from the security she had felt for her house when he told her that “‘The place where you came from ain’t there anymore, and the place where you had in mind to go is cancelled out’”(37). Friend does not hesitate in telling Connie that she is about to experience an awakening into a new world that he was going to bring her into.
This new world is one that Connie had already flirted with. It involves maturity, and sexual encounters, which is what Arnold Friend wants to give Connie. He represents the transition Connie will have from the world of innocence into the world of experience. Arnold is also representative of Connie’s subconscious fears of this world of experience, but he is in her nightmare to reveal to her how her actions have consequences.
Acting like you are older than you are can always get you in trouble. In Connie’s situation, her behavior could result in the robbing of her innocence as well as possible death. Although Connie knows that she can not be a child forever, her dream shows her that running away from childhood will result in terrible things. The transition between being a child and being an adult must occur smoothly, and naturally. This transition should also never be forced. The way that Connie gallivanted with boys is a serious action that has serious consequences, but at least the experience she imagines with Arnold Friend will help her realize that and change her ways.
Oates created the dichotomy between reality and dreams quite well throughout her piece. She provides the reader with two ways to experience the story: either as reality or as reality that turns into a nightmare. This dichotomy that Oates creates “allows the reader to escape this story, and allows this story to end” (Hurley 374). The end of the story shows Connie entering the new world of experience, and Oates wants the reader to sense her fear. Oates intricately provides the reader with clues that help see why Connie’s experience with Arnold is just a nightmare. She also allows the reader to see how this nightmare is meant to scare Connie into making the realization that her decisions have consequences. I hope that anyone reading this learns from Connie that not everything we do is good for us, and we have to think about the consequences of our actions, whether good or bad, before we act.