Moral of Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Essay

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Usually, authors of the most outstanding pieces of literature explain their attitudes towards some significant issues with the help of dozens of chapters and hundreds of pages. Many people believe that it is impossible to create a full-fledged literary work consisting of just a few pages except for stories for children and rhymes. However, the opinion above is denied by many writers, and Joyce Carol Oates is among them. The writer is famous, thanks to her short stories addressing crucial topics for individuals and the whole nation. Thus, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? is one of her best works that describes essential themes with the help of not many characters, and it evokes relevant thoughts among readers.


To begin with, this piece of literature tells the story of a pretty 15-year-old girl, Connie. As it often happens, this girl is superficial – all she likes is watching movies, listening to music, and dating boys. At the same time, she is not very comfortable with members of her family, her mother, and her elder sister, June. Thus, Connie is said to be one of the most ordinary American teenagers.

One night, Connie goes on a date with Eddie, one of her numerous boyfriends. At some point, the girl notices another guy who points with his finger at her and says: “Gonna get you, baby” (Oates 2016, 1). After a while, Connie recalls this stranger when he, Arnold Friend, and his companion, Ellie, appear in front of her house in a gold-colored convertible. Arnold explains that he has come to invite Connie for a ride. At first, the girl is intrigued by this stranger, but a further conversation makes her nervous. The threat is intensified by the fact that she is alone at home because all her relatives are attending a barbecue. Arnold tries to make Connie leave her house and get into his car. In addition to that, she realizes that Arnold is almost twice older; Connie wants to call the police. However, she fails to do it because the man promises to harm her family in this case. Scared to death, Connie leaves her house and joins Arnold Friend for a ride. The story has an open final, and Connie’s further fate leaves unmentioned.

Short Story Analysis

As has been mentioned, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? is a short story with its peculiarities. One can suppose that this piece of literature does not include many characters and themes. Even though it might be true concerning the first element, since Connie and Arnold seem to be the only meaningful persons in the story, the situation is not straightforward when it comes to topics. Thus, further analysis is required to analyze this short story and its content entirely.


Connie is a selfish girl who takes care of nothing and nobody except herself. In addition to that, she perceives the world through primitive concepts only (Study Guide 2016). This fact appears to be dangerous for her because the first encounter with Arnold seems to be positive thanks to his appealing clothes. However, Connie is not an unchanged character since her final decision to join Arnold shows that she can sacrifice herself to save the family. Thus, the author shows that even the most usual people can become extraordinary in exceptional cases.

On the contrary, Arnold Friend is a determined antagonist of the short story. This man is much older than Connie is, but he tries to look younger using clothes. However, his appearance does not correspond to what he thinks and says. Arnold has decided that Connie should go with him, and he achieves this goal gradually. What is more interesting, he does not take any actions, and talking is everything he does. His words are enough for the girl to be threatened. According to Conover (2018), the author shows that psychological violence can sometimes be more dangerous and harmful than any physical force. Finally, his strategy appears successful in making Connie “voluntarily” join him for a ride.

Apart from the two main characters above, the story also has a few secondary persons. Connie’s mother does not seem to imply much importance in this literary work. She is an average married woman who experiences some troubles with her daughter. Nevertheless, a closer analysis reveals the fact that this poor relationship between Connie and her mother makes the girl appear under Arnold’s psychological attack. Anand and Chatterjee (2017) mention that this is a manifestation of naturalism, meaning that the environment determines people’s characters.

Furthermore, specific attention should be paid to Ellie, Arnold’s companion. Even though he seems to be the most irrelevant character, Ellie is depicted to show a particular concept. He manifests himself actively by asking: “You want me to pull out the phone” (Oates 2016, 7). Thus, this character denotes the difference between physical and psychological violence.

Main Themes

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Introduces a few significant issues. Firstly, it discusses the subject of violence, both physical and psychological. One should note that the author does not intend to show that older men can be harmful to young girls. The topic is that almost every member of society can be subject to violence. Secondly, the concept of freedom is also under consideration here. It refers to the fact that Connie wants to be free and independent of her family. She is, but this desired freedom creates more dangerous problems. Finally, Oates explains the role of family for many people. Even though it is impossible to say that Connie has good relationships with her relatives, her decision to join Arnold seems to be justified by the desire to save them.

Personal Opinion

As far as my personal opinion is concerned, this piece of writing seems to be useful for teenage girls and their parents. The author shows that some negative consequences can arise when there is no agreement between children and parents. In addition to that, Oates questions the theme of sexual education and growing-up. It is depicted that those girls who pretend to be older than they are can be subject to appropriate problems. I believe that the issues above are crucial at all times, which makes this literary work worth reading.


Oates’s Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? is an outstanding piece of literature that touches a few significant issues. Even though the story is only nine pages long, the author managed to include a vast system of characters and introduce many crucial topics. Considering its educational message, one should note that the story is a must-read for many teenage girls and those parents who want to save their young girls from adult problems.


Anand, Aswathi V., and Srirupa Chatterjee. 2017. “From Naturalistic Savagery to Humanistic Redemption: Artistic Transformations in Joyce Carol Oates’s Short Stories.” IUP Journal of English Studies 12 (2): 81–89.

Conover, Samantha R. 2018. “A False Sense of Security: An Analysis of Victims of Sexual Assault and the Progress We Have Made Compared to Joyce Carol Oates’ ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’” UCF Department of Legal Studies Law Journal 1: 121–133.

Oates, Joyce C. 2016. Houston: Houston Community College.

Study Guide for Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” 2016. Detroit: Gale, Cengage Learning.

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