Prissy And The Beast Essay, Research Paper
School shootings, bombings, rape, and murder are words that are commonly seen in newspaper headlines and heard on the morning news. To most people these acts seem like senseless violence. However, writers like Joyce Carol Oates and Flannery O’Connor use these same violent images to deliver a powerful moral message. Their stories “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” are very comparable in the lessons that they teach.
Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” begins with the introduction of it’s main character, Connie, a fifteen year- old girl. Oates makes Connie’s vanity quiet well know by telling the reader that Connie has the “habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors”. Indeed, it is this vanity and Connie’s innocence that places her right in the path of Arnold Friend. Arnold will confirm this by telling Connie that there is nothing else for “a pretty girl like you but to be sweet and give in.” In fact, critics generally interpret this story as Connie’s initiation into evil.
What’s in a name? If you’re talking about one of Joyce Carol Oates’s characters, a name can say a lot. Arnold Friend’s name can be interpreted as “aren’t no friend” or “A. Friend” (Johnson 150). Either way his is a demonic figure that represents the death of Connie’s spirit. In fact, Arnold Friend is based on a serial killer know as “The Pied Piper of Tucson.” As Oates reports, this “tabloid psychopath” specialized in “the seduction and occasional murder of teenage girls” (Wesley). The Pied Piper was in his thirties; yet, he managed to counterfeit teenage dress, talk, and behavior. He also stuffed rags into his leather boots to give him height. These elements of the Pied Piper’s behavior are very obvious in Oates’s portrayal of Arnold Friend (Johnson 148).
Joyce Carol Oates dedicated “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” to Bob Dylan. His song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” was her inspiration. The many lines from Dylan’s song obviously influenced the story (see appendix A).
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in clothes that you once wore.
However, the mood and tone of the story also reveal more subtle connections (Davidson).
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” has also been made into a film called “Smooth Talk”. The film is based on the short story but is also expanded. Joyce Chopra and Tom Cole adapted the film. A great deal of emotion was focused on the relationship between Connie and her mother (Johnson 150). The original story had little to do with that relationship. Chopra found it necessary to alter want she called the story’s “unfilmable” conclusion (Wesley 255-62).
“My Sweet little blue-eyed girl, “ he said in a half- sung sigh that had nothing to do with [Connie’s] brown eyes but was taken up just the by the vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him- so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it.
Instead, a fluffier fairytale ending is added. Connie is saved from her fated murder and returned to her family. Despite the alterations Joyce Carol Oates commented that she thought, “the film was extremely well done”.
Flannery O’Connor also begins her story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” with the introduction of Grandma, the main character. The grandmother appears to represent godliness and Christianity. She is said in the story to have “lacked comprehension, but… had a good heart”.
The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting them up with her purse on the shelf in front of the window. The children’s mother still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.
The parents pay little attention to the grandmother. When they do, they are quite rude. The unruly children represent a break down of the American family. Critic Webster Schott said of the family, “Their belief in their own virtue is a sign of their moral blindness. In pride they have separated themselves from God.”
The grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and Connie in Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” have many things in common and play similar roles. Both place a great importance on their appearances. They also meet a similar demise at the hands of a devilish character. It could be said, that if Connie had not faced her terrifying experience with Arnold Friend that she might have grown up to be much like the grandmother. As the old saying goes, “there’s no fool like an old fool”.
Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit represents evil. He happened, upon the grandmother and her family, in a “big black battered hearse-like automobile”. Seeing him, the grandmother is struck by the feeling that she has seen him before. Soon after, the grandmother makes a fatal mistake when she commnets, “You’re The Misfit! I reconginzed you at once!” The Misfit replies, “Yes’m but it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn’t of reckernized me.” After The Misfit’s henchmen, Bobby Lee and Hiram, take the family into the woods the grandmother pleads with him to spare her life. She begs him to repent. After some dialogue the grandmother has an epiphany (Schott 142-44, 146). She murmured. “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” She then attempts to touch The Misfit’s shoulder and gets three bullets in the chest. He then makes the observation that “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
Whether The Misfit will also be cleansed by this experience is, in O’Connor’s words, “another story”. However, she does leave two symbolic clues: a collision causing cat and a dirty pair of spectacles.
Following the shooting, the Misfit “put his gun down on the ground and took off his glasses and began to clean them… Without his glasses, The Misfit’s eyes were redrimmed and pale and defenseless- looking.” Unarmed, unspectacled, and unprotected, The Misfit now perceives life very differently. In a moment of unconscious warmth, he picks up the trouble-causing cat. Previously pampered by the grandmother but largely neglected by the critics…, Pitty Sing slinks into the story. With the benefit of an animal’s sixth sense and with the security of a feline’s nine lives, the cat was at the time responding to the changed killer by “rubbing itself against his leg.” The Misfit articulates his transformation in the last words of the story.
Earlier he had snarled that there was “No pleasure but meanness.”… [But at the end] The Misfit changes his conclusion about meanness: “It’s no real pleasure in life.”
However, O’Connor previous description of The Misfit suggests that his emotional scars run too deep for a permanent change.
When he puts the cat down and his glasses back on, his perception of life will revert back again- though the glasses will be cleaner, as perhaps will his life (Portch 19-20)
Baudelaire’s theory states that the devils greatest wile is to convince us that he does not exist (Friedman 114). Arnold Friend and The Misfit play similar demonic roles and serve as a reminder that evil can come in many forms. They both violently lead their victims to make religious epiphanies. The price paid for their spiritual rebirth is an immediate death.
Both Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates have been criticized for their violent writings. However, the acts portrayed in their stories aren’t senseless. They are meant to show the purification of the involved characters. Also, they serve as a catharsis or reassurance of faith for the reader.
Davidson, Rob. Dedication of Joyce Carol Oates’s Short Story to Dylan. 16 Mar. 2000
Friedman, Melvin L., and Clark, Beverly Lyon. Critical Essays on Flannery O’Connor.
Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1985.
Johnson, Greg. Joyce Carol Oates: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne,
Portch, Stephen R. “O’Connor’s ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’.” The Explicator 37
Schott, Webster. “Flannery O’Connor: Faith’s Stepchild.” The Nation 201 (1965): 142-
Wesley, Marilyn C. “The Transgressive Other in Joyce Carol Oates’s Recent Fiction.”
Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction XXXIII (1992): 255-62.