Study Guide

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Visions of America

By Joyce Carol Oates

Visions of America

The restaurant was shaped like a big bottle, though squatter than a real bottle, and on its cap was a revolving figure of a grinning boy holding a hamburger aloft. (6)

Connie and her friend go to a typical gathering spot for teenagers in 1960s America. The "grinning boy" has a sinister undertone, particularly since the real "grinning boy" of the story is Arnold, who even has a creepy smiling profile of himself painted on the side of the car.

They went up through the maze of parked and cruising cars to the bright-lit, fly-infested restaurant, their faces pleased and expectant as if they were entering a sacred building that loomed up out of the night to give them what haven and blessing they yearned for. (6)

That the local drive-in is a "sacred building" gives us a sense of the total lack of really sacred buildings in town, and by extension, of any sacred values in their society other than commercialism.

[Connie and her friend] listened to the music that made everything so good: the music that was always in the background, like music at a church service, it was something to depend upon. (6)

Music is an essential component of the popular culture that Connie and her friend embrace, just as it is today. As in the previous quote, pop culture is presented here on a par with religion.

Connie couldn't help but look back at the darkened shopping plaza with its big empty parking lot and its signs that were faded and ghostly now, and over at the drive-in restaurant where cars were circling tirelessly. She couldn't hear the music at this distance. (10)

We get a landscape of Connie's town, which looks like any suburban town with its shopping plazas, parking lots, and restaurants.

The asbestos "ranch house" that was now three years old startled her – it looked small. (12)

The relatively new "ranch house," a fixture in suburban tract housing, situates the story in contemporary American society. (Not that we use asbestos in buildings anymore!)

[Connie] listened for an hour and a half to a program called XYZ Sunday Jamboree, record after record of hard, fast, shrieking songs she sang along with, interspersed by exclamations from "Bobby King": "An' look here, you girls at Napoleon's – Son and Charley want you to play real close attention to this song coming up!" (13)

We get a taste of Connie's musical taste here, but there are also some echoes of Arnold's talk here. Like the DJ, Arnold wants Connie to "play real close attention" to his words, and Arnold's voice is often compared to music (see the last quote below). These parallels suggest that Arnold borrows from pop culture for his own ends: what compels people to buy can also compel them in other ways.

It was the same program that was playing inside the house. (30)

The fact that Arnold's partner in crime is listening to the same radio show not only indicates the ubiquity of popular culture but also sets up a parallel between popular culture and Arnold's seduction.

"I got things to do."

"Like what?"

"Things." (43-45)

Her head filled with the "trashy daydreams" of popular culture, Connie can't think of anything to do, and Arnold calls her out on her lie.

Part of those words were spoken with a slight rhythmic lilt, and Connie somehow recognized them – the echo of a song from last year, about a girl rushing into her boy friend's arms and coming home again. (118)

Arnold twists a popular song about teenage romance into a form of psychological manipulation.

He sounded like a hero in a movie, declaring something important. (127)

Ironically, Arnold sounds like a movie character. Up to this point, Connie has associated movies with romantic love rather than sexual violence.