Study Guide

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? What's Up With the Title?

By Joyce Carol Oates

What's Up With the Title?

The title of Oates's story has the quality of a good song lyric: it's simple, it's meaningful, it's got a nice rhythm, and it's mysterious enough to keep us thinking about what it means. It's also general enough to embrace the various themes in the novel.

Here are a couple of ways you could think about it:

1. It sounds like the kind of question you might get from your parents on your way out the door or coming home after your curfew – which makes sense for a story starring a teenager.

2. It could be a bigger, more metaphysical question: how did you get to this point in your life and what are you going to do now?

3. The title also touches on Connie's dilemma as she confronts Arnold Friend, who wants to take her away from everything familiar off to an unknown future: "The place where you came from ain't there anymore," Arnold tells her, "and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out" (152).