"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" wrestles with some of the oldest Big Questions in the history of humanity. What is the nature of evil? Why is there suffering in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people? The sinister Arnold Friend seems to take on metaphysical proportions in the text: more than just an individual, he is Death, everything that opposes life, love, and joy. It is only in confronting Death that Connie is able to transcend her own individual self and aspire to something higher. But this isn't just a metaphysical horror story. Set in the context of 1960s America, the story also explores how violence might be built into the structure of society, into mores and values that some might feel are oppressive or unjust.
Joyce Carol Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" tracks the debilitating physical and psychological effects of sexual violence on its victims.
Although at times Arnold appears to be supernaturally evil, he is all the more troubling a character because of how realistically he is portrayed.