In ???Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been???, Joyce Carol Oates tells a story about Connie, a beautiful but self-obsessed 15-year-old girl, who has a rebellious feeling against her family, particularly her mother and older sister.
Without her parents??™ knowledge, she spends most of her evenings meeting boys with her girl friends, and one evening captures the attention of a stranger in a gold convertible. While her parents are away at her aunts barbecue, two men pull up in front of her house and call Connie out. She recognizes the driver, Arnold Friend, as the man from the drive-in restaurant, and is initially charmed by the smooth-talking, charismatic stranger in his fashionable tight jeans and white T-shirt. He tells Connie he is eighteen and has come to take her for a ride in his car with his sidekick Ellie. Connie slowly realizes that he is actually much older, and grows afraid. As Connie refuses to go with him, he becomes more forceful and threatening, saying that he will harm her family, until Connie is compelled to leave with him and do what he demands of her.
The story ends as Connie leaves her front porch and her eventual fate is left ambiguous.It is quite surprising and ridiculous that how a girl could leave her family and ran away with a stranger. But in this fiction, Connie does so. Many people would take this fiction as a description of how Arnold Friend, who is often regarded as a possible rapist and murder, lures Connie??”a representative of teenage girls away from home and family.
So they are inclined to interpret this fiction as the source of exploring various reasons for the tragedy, such as the traditional depressed family atmosphere, parents??™ irresponsibility and ignorance for their children and evil guys??™ induction. Connie??™s mother often urges her to be neat and responsible like her older sister June who saves money and helps their parents. Thus June always receives praise for her maturity, whereas Connie seldom does. Their father works a lot and rarely talks to his daughters, but their mother never stops nagging Connie. So as a teenage girl, her natural rebel subconsciously makes her want to get away from her family. Secondly, the hypocrite??™s temptation and threaten make the immature Connie finally give in.
Dressed in a fashionable way and equipped with a car and radio, Arnold insists on taking Connie for a ride and he seems to know a lot about her, such as her name, her family and friends. Thus he wants to create a sense of familiarity and gains her trust. But when Connie scarcely knows where to turn and tries to call police, he threatens that he??™ll do something to her family when they come home. By hearing these sweet and threatening words, she is totally lost and becomes disordered. At that time, Arnold??™s further lure makes her get on his car.To sum up, many people put all the blame on the family and the evil guy.
But from the perspective of Connie, I would like to interpret the fiction as an exploration for teenagers??™ search for independence. Connie??™s conflicts with her family and efforts to make herself sexually attractive are part of her search for independence. She dreams about that one day her knight in shinning amour will appear in front of her and take her to a fair-tale world. The more she dreams about this, the more eagerly she wants to get out of her family and to search for independence. So when her parents and sister went to aunt??™s barbecue, she doesn??™t like this kind of family reunion and refuses to go. She??™d rather stay at home alone.
Besides, when Arnold shows at her door and asks her to take a ride with him, she just stands at the screen door and doesn??™t directly ignore him. Even when she doubted that Arnold is much older than her, she still stands there listening to his explanations. However, as a teenager, she is dependent on the adults in her life for care and discipline as well as for enabling her social life. Her friend??™s father, for example, drives her and her friend to the movie theater. Although Connie often fights against her family, particularly her mother and sister, they constitute the only life she really knows. Her experiments with creating a sexy appearance and meeting boys in the local diner serve as her attempt to explore new worlds as well as a new side of herself.
However, until Arnold Friend arrives, her explorations have always been swaddled in safety. She may go into an alley with a boy for a few hours, but no matter what happens there, she will eventually be driven back home to the familiarity of her family.But Connie??™s search for independence has a brutal outcome. When Arnold Friend arrives and interacts with her as the mature woman she has pretended to be, he yanks her out of her childhood adventures and places her firmly into an adult world from which no one will rescue her. The things Arnold says to Connie accurately represent the search she has undertaken as a teenager seeking maturity. For example, he says, ???I??™m your lover. You don??™t know what that is but you will??? and ???The place where you came from ain??™t there anymore, and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out.??? Teenagers??™ searching for independence is a common social phenomenon, as they are eager to gain the sense of existence and respect.
And during the process, they often sway between their family and independence, just like Connie, who on one hand make great efforts to seek for independence; on the other hand, she has to be dependent on her family. But Connie go extremes to seek complete independence, which makes her go astray by Arnold??™s temptation.