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Analysis of Where Are You Goind, Where Have You Been?

Joyce Carol Oates' story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" moves from a precise, particularized account of a young girl's restless interest in boys to an encounter with sexual demand in which the stifling terror mounts relentlessly to a conclusion in which the world outside the girl's backdoor has become a land that she "had never seen before and did not recognize" (54). The account of Connie's growing terror is resolved as she gives in to Arnold Friend and, acceding to his demands, leaves the false security of her parents' house and goes out to meet her unstated, dreaded fate. The nature of this encounter is never made perfectly clear but its sexual content and the feeling of terror are unambiguous.

The end of the story is both clear and highly ambiguous and the story has produced critical responses that range from Sullivan's comment that "there are to my knowledge no symbols here" (8) to Creighton's suggestion that Oates invites the reader "to see Arnold Friend as the Arch Fiend, the Devil-in-disguise" (118). But, whether the story is highly symbolic or not, its effects are achieved through the contrast between the naturalistic presentation of detail and atmosphere and the intrusion of elements that transform the atmosphere from benign to menacing. As Creighton notes, one of Oates' great skills as a writer is the ability to sketch the interior and exterior lives of her characters, "place them in vividly specific contexts, and clinically record the mounting tensions and conflicts of the story" (117). In this tale, however, Oates deliberately leaves the nature of the events in the story ambiguous and open. Whether Connie's experience is genuine, a fable involving the Devil himself, or even a dream (for which there is plenty of evidence) the threat of adult sexuality that is inherent in Connie's current state of eager and somewhat reckless exploration achieves a level of terror that is unrelenting and all-consuming....

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