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Character Analysis:  Connie

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates, the author of a number of distinguished books in several genres, is one the most productive, versatile, serious and modern writer of America.  Her stories are the image of violence and tragedy.  She is praised because of her versatile writing, varied production and prolific publishing.  “Her work is characterized by often unbearable violence, and this violence emphasizes her characters' struggles to define themselves against their oppressive environments.”(Siciliano)

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Summary:  “Where are you going, where have you been?”

“Where are you going, where you have been?” is the story of young teenage 15-year-old girl, Connie, who is preoccupied by her thoughts of being proud, pretty and popular.  She often has conflict with her mother, as her mother’s praise always go to her sister June, for her simplicity.  But normally she is an obedient at home.  She would often go off for dinner and spend time with whatever boy she met.  One Sunday, when she refuses to go with her family to a barbecue, she met Arnold friend, who came in his car with his friend to take off Connie for a ride.  In the start he was polite but later becomes threatening to kill her family if she would not go.  For sacrifice of her family, Connie leaves with him in the end.

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is a good example of Oates’ writing style and themes. She uses Connie as her main character, and focuses on Connie’s reactions and feelings when she is put in a dangerous situation. This story is a great example of how Oates uses violence, especially violence towards women, in her writing. The story goes along with her themes of the reality of violence in America.

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“Connie is in stage between growing out of her childhood and growing into being a woman.  She still has retained certain amount of her child-like behavior, but tries to be more adult, especially in talking to Arnold Friend.  As a child, she still lives with her parents and is strongly dependent upon them, mostly upon her mother.  As an incipient adult woman, she starts to care about her outfit and about boys.  A strange man coming to her home from the bar, taking her for a ride, that’s the high time of her day.  She is proud of his remembering her and her initial reserved ness perhaps resulting from her play “hard to get”.  This changes when she notices something fake about Arnold Friend, something that makes her want to quit the conversation.  The turn, however, takes place too late; Arnold Friend already has her in his hold.  Having realized the danger, she chooses to give in, protecting her innermost self by falling into some state of trance or sleepwalking, distancing herself from her body.  Arnold Friend, death, becomes her solution.”  (Martina and Corina, 3)


Connie was very pretty and very proud of that too.  The story starts with stating that, “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.”(Oates, 1996)  This also shows that she was too conscious for her looks. She was very attractive and knew how to make herself smart and elegant.  “Connie had long dark blond hair that drew anyone's eye to it, and she wore part of it pulled up on her head and puffed out and the rest of it she let fall down her back.”(Oates, 1996)  Connie would put a lot of attention to her appearance and beauty.  Her mother used to spark on her for wasting too much time and money on her hairstyle that her sister never did.
Connie did not have much interest in her household chores.  Her room would always remain dirty.  She did not take interest in her home responsibilities.

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[Connie’s mother] "’Why don't you keep your room clean like your sister? How've you got your hair fixed—what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don't see your sister using that junk.’" (Oates, 1996)

Connie had the habit of daydreaming.  Her thoughts were always preoccupied by her being so beautiful and attractive and wanted to live a life of love with her partner.  She would often go for dinner that would usually end with a date with a boy. Connie had always dreamed of love and how it would always be just like in the movies and songs, but this was different. Arnold made Connie afraid of love and sex and he tried to trick her into coming with him by saying nice and sweet things such as; "We'll go out to a nice field, out in the country here where it smells so nice and its sunny," (Oates, 1995)

Connie had dual nature.  She had rather contrasting personality when at home in comparison to when she would away from home.  She would always behave like a child and irresponsible at home.  Where as elsewhere she would behave as mature elegant women. It also shows her inner insight of sensibility.  It shows her sense of intellect and perception, that how one has to behave outside the house, though she behaved carelessly at home.

 Connie was a young teenage girl but still she understands and comprehends maturely enough, when Arnold friend invites her for a ride.  She never gave in at once.  Instead, she kept insisted on asking him that who was he? Why he wanted to take her to ride? Where would he take her?

[Connie] “’Look, I don't even know who you are,’ Connie said in disgust.”  (Oates, 1996)

[Connie] "’Where?’ ‘Where what?’ ‘Where're we going?’"  (Oates, 1996)

She was sensible enough not to believe everything he said.  She asked him, when he asserted that he knew everything about her.
[Connie] "’How'd you find out all that stuff?’ Connie said.”  (Oates, 1996)

She very well knew that Arnold was trying to make fool of her, when he claimed that he knew everything.

[Connie] "’Look, you're kidding. You're not from around here.’"  (Oates, 1996)

When Arnold declared that he loved her, she immediately disapproved his assertion.  This was her normal, natural and discerning reaction to unwanted talk.

[Connie]"’Shut up! You're crazy!’ Connie said. She backed away from the door. She put her hands up against her ears as if she'd heard something terrible, something not meant for her. ‘People don't talk like that, you're crazy,’ she muttered.”(Oates, 1996)

Connie had a strong character.  As she continuously resisted Arnold for his offer. Arnold himself stated that,
[Arnold] "’You're a hard girl to handle. How come?’ he said.” (Oates, 1996)

She did not believe Arnold when he said that he was a teenager.  This showed that she was not a dunderhead to be easily cheated by someone.

Connie knew that he was not eighteen, but he was somewhat around 30 and was only trying to overwhelm her.

[Connie] “’She spoke sullenly, careful to show no interest or pleasure.”

[Connie] "’Maybe you two better go away,’ Connie said faintly.”

“It showed Connie’s psychology and how even though she was sexually active, she was not really ready for this type of situation and has a lot of growing up to do (which, by the end of the story, we realize she won’t get a chance to do).  The story was startling, disturbing, and a great example of Oates’ depiction of violence towards women and how women deal with it. Connie eventually realizes she must be brave and go with Arnold Friend in order to save her family, though she has no clue as to what kind of sacrifice she’s going to have to make.”  (Oates, 2001)

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“The story was important in view of Connie’s perspective, not Arnold’s.  It was the reflection of psychological workings of a young girl in an average suburban lifestyle. Oates makes Connie’s character the typical teenage girl—it could be anyone. It goes to show that violence can happen to anyone, anywhere. It presented how easily an average girl can be tricked into something. It also shows us that violence against women is prevalent, and can happen even in small communities and to the average person. Oates brings a harsh reality of American violence towards women into the light for readers to examine and think about.”  (Oates, 2001)

Psychological Aspects

“Especially in the later part of the, Connie changes in the face of inevitable.  The conditions observable with her may be described as

  • Denial, Suppression:  She doesn’t seem to realize the danger, she might have developed fear at the end, but the situation seems unreal to her and she goes out, she doesn’t think about the consequences.  She only has a feeling of danger but cannot or won’t analyze it.
  • Isolation of the affect:  Connie tries to appear rational though filled with emotion, she tries to continue the conversation even if it is unbearable to her.
  • Distancing:  To protect herself, Connie, sees the situation as unreal, she detaches her mind and soul from her body and virtually watches herself from outside, through this detachment being able to save herself.  This may be similar to protective mechanisms or even schizophrenia.”   (Martina and Corina, 2.4)

“My story had an ending one might call tragic, since the heroine surrenders to death.  She in a sense is transcending her mortal self; she arises above her particularity and she’s going to ascend to death.  She looks out from the screen door, and she sees the organic world, which is the world from which we come, and we’re composed of, and she’s going to go that world and she’s going to die.  A man has come for her, a rapist, and he’s going to kill her.” (Chat with Joyce Carol Oates, http://www.salon.com/06/departments/litchat2.html )

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Works Cited

Martina Preis and Corina Naujokat.  “Joyce Carol Oates:  Where are you going, where have you been?”  Seminar Handout.  Thoughts and Questions on the Text.  3   Oct. 19th, 2001 <http://www.philjohn.com/papers/pjkd_ga15.html>

Martina Preis and Corina Naujokat.  “Joyce Carol Oates:  Where are you going, where have you been?”  Seminar Handout.  Background, Psychological Aspects. 2.4  Oct. 19th, 2001 <http://www.philjohn.com/papers/pjkd_ga15.html>

Oates, Joyce Carol.  Oct. 18th, 2001 <http://www.personal.psu.edu/users/k/o/kop102/>

Oates, Joyce Carol.  "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Oct. 18th, 2001 <http://www.usfca.edu/~southerr/wgoing.html> Updated Dec. 13th, 1996.

Oates, Joyce Carol. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin Press 1995 1009-1021.

Oates, Joyce Carol.  Chat With Joyce Coral Oates, Personal communication.  Oct. 18th, 2001 <http://www.salon.com/06/departments/litchat2.html>

Siciliano, Jana.  “Author Profile: Joyce Carol Oates.” Bookreporter.com (para 5).  Oct. 19th, 2001 <http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/au-oates-joyce-carol.asp>


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