Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
by Joyce Carol Oates
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Theme of Freedom and Confinement
Most of the action in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" takes place in the main character's home – or rather, right on the threshold, in the doorway of the kitchen, to be exact. By confining the action this way, the story is able to stage a larger question about agency: How free are we? What determines our actions? What life can we choose? What determines the life we desire? For the protagonist, the home is on one hand the place where she loses herself in daydreams fueled by popular music and film. But it's also associated with parental restrictions and the dreary life of her suburban housewife mother, a life that might await in her own future. Yet the alternative, a life literally parked on the driveway in Arnold Friend's car, is filled with threat. The possibilities for free will in such an impossible situation is a central question of the story.
Questions About Freedom and Confinement
- Take a look at Connie's actions and her state of mind over the course of the story. Does she seem to be in control of her actions? In what instances, if any, do we see her asserting control?
- Do you think Connie is making a noble gesture of self-sacrifice at the end of the story, or is she just giving in to Arnold?
- Take a look at the positions of Arnold, Ellie, and Connie during their conversation. When is Connie in the doorway? When does she move away from it? At what point does Arthur head toward the door? How does the staging of their actions help us understand the deeper questions about free will that underlie the story?
- Why don't Arnold and Ellie just break into the house and take Connie by force? How would the story be different if they did? How would your understanding of the story change if what happened to Connie after she left with Arnold was included in the story?
Chew on This
The home should be Connie's haven, yet its vulnerability suggests her own sexual vulnerability.
By crossing the threshold, Connie chooses to save her family. This act of freedom in a situation of coercion and violence suggests that there is always a possibility for freedom, even in the most desperate of situations.