Study Guide

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Violence

By Joyce Carol Oates


She had a high, breathless, amused voice that made everything she said sound a little forced, whether it was sincere or not. (4)

In the early paragraphs we are told repeatedly that Connie is "breathless" and "nervous." In addition to the quote above, we are told that her laugh is "high-pitched and nervous" (5), and when Connie and her friend run across the highway, they are "breathless with daring" (6). This suggests something vulnerable about Connie even before she meets Arnold Friend.

She drew her shoulders up and sucked in her breath with the pure pleasure of being alive, and just at that moment she happened to glance at a face just a few feet from hers. (7)

Just at the moment when Connie experiences the "pure pleasure of being alive," she meets Arnold Friend for the first time – although at this point he's just an anonymous but disturbing face. Life and death, pleasure and pain, are closely associated from the start.

He stared at her and then his lips widened into a grin. [...] There he was, still watching her. He wagged a finger and laughed and said, "Gonna get you, baby." (7)

Chill run down your spine?

Connie's mother kept dragging her back to the daylight by finding things for her to do or saying suddenly, "What's this about the Pettinger girl?" (9)

Connie's boring suburban life is interrupted by a hint of violence directed at women, suggesting that society has a dark underbelly.

And Connie paid close attention herself, bathed in a glow of slow-pulsed joy that seemed to rise mysteriously out of the music itself and lay languidly about the airless little room, breathed in and breathed out with each gentle rise and fall of her chest. (14)

The story never seems to let Connie experience pure pleasure without there being something sinister lurking in the shadows. Here happy words like "glow" and "joy" are mixed with the suffocating, claustrophobic image of an "airless little room."

The driver's glasses were metallic and mirrored everything in miniature. (21)

Arnold keeps his sunglasses on for much of their conversation, and Connie is disturbed by the diminished reflection of herself in them (see paragraphs 35, 36, and 55). This is Arnold's way of being in control: he is the observer, never the observed.

"My sign." And he drew an X in the air, leaning out toward her [...] After his hand fell back to his side the X was still in the air, almost visible. (77)

Arnold seems almost supernatural here, with the magical ability to make gestures hover in the air. What do you think the X represents?

Connie saw with a shock that he wasn't a kid either. [...] Connie felt a wave of dizziness rise in her at this sight and she stared at him as if waiting for something to change the shock of the moment, make it all right again [...] Connie stared at him, another wave of dizziness and fear rising in her so that for a moment he wasn't even in focus but just a blur standing there against his gold car. (86, 94)

Connie's acute terror renders her helpless and hopeless. The fact that Arnold becomes "just a blur" once again gives him the air of a supernatural or non-human being.

I'm the boy for you and like I said, you come out here nice like a lady and give me your hand, and nobody else gets hurt, I mean, your nice old bald-headed daddy and your mummy and your sister in her high heels. (133)

Arnold's threat takes Connie's dilemma to a whole new level. At the same time that it amplifies the threat of violence – not just to Connie but to her whole family – it opens up an opportunity for her to perform a noble act of self-sacrifice.

She cried out, she cried for her mother, she felt her breath start jerking back and forth in her lungs as if it were something Arnold Friend was stabbing her with again and again with no tenderness. (144)

Arnold's psychological torture of Connie is just as terrifying as the threat of physical harm. Connie loses the ability to speak for herself, to stand up for herself. This loss of speech is felt as an actual physical attack, a kind of death.