When we’re first introduced to Connie, the main character in Joyce Carol Oates’s short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” we learn that she is somewhat full of herself because of her good looks. These looks also cause her some level of suffering at the hands of her mother, who is jealous because her own looks have faded. Connie’s sister has never been pretty, so everything else about her must praised instead. Oates tells us, “Connie wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over.” This statement will soon be put to the test.
When her family leaves to go to a picnic, Connie stays home to daydream about boys and lie in the sun. A car appears, bringing two unique and creepy characters. Arnold Friend becomes more sinister as we learn more about him. Arnold’s friend, Ellie, is somewhat in the background, but is there as a solid presence to enforce everything Arnold says. The meeting starts out innocently enough. Arnold wants to take Connie for a ride in his car. Connie does not know this boy, whom she soon realizes is an older man, and does not want to go with him. As the conversation continues, we see that Arnold’s intentions are not at all innocent. Arnold is increasingly insistent that Connie come out of the house and take a ride so that he can become her lover. He promises he won’t go into the house after her unless she touches the phone and that if she does, he will burn the house down and kill her family.
Connie believes his threat and eventually goes outside to him. The incredible thing about the story is that Arnold does not use force or weapons to threaten Connie. It’s an emotional and mental game, played to the point of perfection. By the time Connie leaves the house with the perceived implication that she will be raped to save her family, it is completely believable, and the reader agrees that there is no other way. The phone is dead, the men have a car to chase her down if she runs, and Arnold can always come back later to kill off her family and burn the house down. Connie is left with no options. It seems hopeless, but in a moment of brilliance, Oates leaves us with a glimmer of hope. The story ends as Connie is walking out of the house. We do not know for sure that harm comes to her. Any number of scenarios could be played out, but Oates does not make the outcome definitive. Instead, we can create the ending for ourselves. We can hope that Connie somehow got away, that the bad guy was caught in the end. This question mark ending keeps the reader returning to the story again and again, allowing a different possibility each time.
This story can be found in the collection titled Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?: Selected Early Stories
My rating: 4 out of 5 = loved it