Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
by Joyce Carol Oates
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Theme of Family
Connie's family seems "normal" in the most conventional sense: a nuclear family with a stay-at-home mom and a working dad, children, and family barbecues on Sundays. But it's precisely this ordinariness that makes Oates's treatment of family life so disturbing. Most of the attention is drawn to the women of the family, whose relationships are fractured by a society that sees them as little more than sexual, marriageable, domestic objects. Without any more affirmative notion of femininity, the women – sisters and mother – are at odds with one another: they are rivals or enemies, but they can't seem to be friends. The absence of the father also eliminates the possibility for the daughters to develop a meaningful relationship with an important male figure.
Questions About Family
- Describe Connie's relationship with her mother. Do you think genuine love lies beneath their bickering? Why do you think there's so much friction between the two?
- Take a look at the other women in Connie's family – her sister, her mother's sisters. How are they and their relationships described? How do these female relationships affect Connie?
- Where are the fathers in the story? On seeing Smooth Talk, the film adaptation of her story, Oates remarked that she would have liked to flesh out Connie's father to suggest, as "subtly" as she could, a parallel between her attraction to her father and to Arnold Friend (source). How would your reading of the story change if Oates rewrote the story along those lines?
- Arnold claims that Connie's family would not have made the same sacrifice she is making for them. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Chew on This
Connie's fraught relationships with her mother and sister are all the more tragic because they are a lost opportunity for female friendship.
The weak presence of Connie's father in her life makes her even more susceptible to the manipulations of someone like Arnold Friend.