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Themes

"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.

Questions About Violence

  1. So Arnold Friend is a creep. What does he say and do that makes him so terrifying?
  2. What are the physical and psychological effects of Arnold's threats on Connie? How does Connie react to the pressure of these threats? How would you react?
  3. Do you see a change in Connie's mental and emotional state over the course of the story? Compare and contrast different moments to support your view.
  4. What motivates Arnold Friend? Is he an ordinary person, a psychopath, or something more mythical, like a representation of evil, death, or even masculinity in general? Point to specific instances in the story to defend your opinion.

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

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.

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