Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
by Joyce Carol Oates
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The first thing we learn about Connie (besides her name and her age) is that she has a "habit of craning her neck to look into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right" (1). Looking is a form of control in the novel: the one who looks has control over the one who is looked at.
When Connie is under Arnold's gaze, when she meets him for the first time in the restaurant parking lot, she can't help looking at him – twice. When Arnold first appears at her door, he's wearing sunglasses, hiding himself from Connie's gaze, while he's free to gaze at her all he wants. Connie is looked at for most of the story, an object to be ogled by men or envied by women.
The last scene of the story, in which we see Connie looking at herself as if from outside her body, is highly ambivalent. It could be that Connie has succumbed to the splitting-up of herself under the force of Arnold's predatory stare. Or it could be that she is seeing herself clearly for the first time as she goes out to meet her fate. What do you think?