Study Guide

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Freedom and Confinement

By Joyce Carol Oates

Freedom and Confinement

Connie couldn't do a thing, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams. (3)

Connie is paralyzed by daydreams fueled by "trashy" films and songs. This looks ahead to the paralyzing terror she suffers when Arnold accosts her at her home.

Connie had long dark blond hair that drew anyone's eye to it. [...] Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not at home. (5)

Home is a kind of prison for Connie, associated with the dreary lives of her mother and her sister. Outside the home lies the promise of some kind of freedom.

It was as if the idea of going for a ride somewhere, to someplace was a new idea to him. (55)

There's an echo here of the great American road trip – typified by such works as Jack Kerouac's On the Road – where the road is associated with freedom from conventional mores. Of course, Arnold gives the road trip a sinister twist here.

[Connie] had the idea that he had driven up the driveway all right but had come from nowhere before that and belonged nowhere and that everything about him and even about the music that was so familiar to her was only half real. (94)

Connie may feel that her home is a prison (see the second quote above), but the outside world, the "nowhere" of Arnold, is just as terrifying.

"—going to call the police—"

"Soon as you touch the phone I don't need to keep my promise and can come inside [...] anybody can break through a screen door and glass and wood and iron or anything else if he needs to, anybody at all, and specially Arnold Friend." (116-118)

Even the threat of the police can't keep Arnold at bay, suggesting that he is somehow above or beyond the law.

A noisy sorrowful wailing rose all about her and she was locked inside it the way she was locked inside this house. (144)

Connie's terror is often described through images of confinement or imprisonment. Here the home is both her haven and her prison: it protects her against Arnold at the same time that it traps her.

Arnold Friend said, in a gentle-loud voice that was like a stage voice, "The place where you came from ain't there any more, and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out. This place you are now – inside your daddy's house – is nothing but a cardboard box I can knock down any time." (151)

Unlike in the second quote above, the home is now associated with shelter and protection from sexual predators – and not very good protection at that. Arnold's threat works by way of restricting Connie's mobility, so that she has no choice but to go where he's going.

She thought for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that wasn't really hers either. (155)

At this late point in the story, Connie is so alienated from herself that her own body feels like a kind of prison.

She watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were back safe somewhere in the other doorway, watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited. (160)

This passage continues the splitting up of Connie's self that we saw in the previous quote. Here Connie seems to be floating above her body as if she were having an out-of-body experience. Interestingly, it's only at this point that Connie finally steps across the threshold of her house into the outside world.

[The] vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him – so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it. (161)

At the same time Connie goes out to meet her predator, Arnold Friend, she experiences this moment as a kind of adventure into "vast sunlit reaches of the land." It's a weird ending, which we talk about in "What's Up With the Ending?"