Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
by Joyce Carol Oates
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Connie is a typical 15-year-old living in an American suburb.
In this initial situation, the story introduces us to Connie, a pretty but air-headed teenager who seems terribly ordinary. She doesn't get along with her mom, she's annoyed by her sister, she likes listening to music and watching movies, and she spends a lot of time going out with her friends and meeting boys. Nothing too exciting going on here, until…
In the parking lot of the diner, Connie encounters a mysterious stranger.
When Connie first meets Arnold, she doesn't know who he is; he's just a creepy guy in a parking lot who threatens her in a vague kind of way. But for some reason, she can't help looking at him.
Later in the summer, the mysterious stranger parks in her driveway and introduces himself as Arnold Friend.
Connie has completely forgotten about the creepy guy until he shows up in her driveway when her family is out. Joined by a friend, the stranger, who introduces himself as Arnold Friend, asks Connie to come with him for a ride. At this point in the story, Connie is merely intrigued and even amused by the stranger in her driveway, although she remains in her doorway.
Arnold Friend insists that Connie join him for a ride, and threatens to harm her family if she doesn't comply.
When Connie finally realizes what a threat Arnold is, she moves away from the doorway and asks him to leave. But Arnold threatens to harm her family if she doesn't come with him.
Connie races to the telephone but is so paralyzed with fear that she can't call the police.
When Connie races to the phone, it seems for a moment that there might be a happy ending. But she breaks down and is unable to follow through on the call.
Arnold orders Connie to hang up the phone and join him in his car. Connie obeys.
When Connie obediently places the receiver back on the hook, it's clear that she has come to accept her fate: she must join Arnold in order to save her family.
Connie steps outside.
When Connie finally crosses the threshold, the last image the story gives us is Arnold Friend, surrounded by "vast sunlit reaches of land." How we interpret this image determines how we read Connie's final action, as either an act of self-sacrifice or a kind of defeat.