In the short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," Joyce Carol Oates develops a sense of inevitability in the story of a young girl placed in an untenable position by a situation and a reality that is not that uncommon. From the first, this is a teenaged girl who is part of a family yet who feels separate from that family to a great degree. She has reached the age where she wants to live her own life, yet she is not equipped to do so in more than token ways. She may believe that she is more independent and capable than she is, and this gets her into real trouble when the interestingly named Arnold Friend sets his sights on her. Oates develops her image of teenage life and of its hidden threats through strong characterization and symbolism.
The way Oates uses language in the opening of the story also creates a sense of doom, as if she were speaking of someone in the past tense because something has happened to that person that she is now going to explain:
Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous, giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right (118).
The shopping plaza is symbolic of her bid for freedom. It is the place to which she goes to get away from her parents and to act out being an adult. She and her girlfriends change the way they look when they get there -- "She wore a pull-over jersey blouse that looked one way when she was at home and anot