Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
by Joyce Carol Oates
Persephone. Antigone. Ophelia. Catherine Earnshaw. In the list of great tragic heroines, Connie doesn't really seem to fit. She's the girl next door: ordinary, even bratty. She's the "pretty" one in the family and thinks she's superior to her mother and her sister because of it. She's flighty and air-headed, full of those awkward teenage habits: nervous giggling, a fake and flirty voice, constant looking into mirrors. In our age, when teen celebrities are marketed as sexually sophisticated Lolitas (think Vanessa Hudgens and Miley Cyrus) Connie comes off as much younger than her 15 years.
But the story needs Connie's ordinariness to pose some really important questions. When Arnold arrives in her driveway, Connie is placed in an extraordinary situation that gives her the opportunity to do something exceptional, something she wouldn't have ever been called upon to do in the course of her average, everyday life.
As Oates explains, "At the end of the story, Connie transcends her Connie-self – her merely local, teenage American self. So, confronted with death, we are obliged to be equal to it. Or to try" (source).
You don't have to have Antigone's ethical idealism or Ophelia's tragic passion to become something more than yourself, to rise above the everyday routine and do something meaningful. Connie may never enter the Great Tragic Heroines Hall of Fame, but she moves us because her situation speaks to our most urgent questions about identity, morality, and sexuality.Timeline