Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?


Joyce Carol Oates

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Themes and Colors
Appearances and Deception Theme Icon
Agency, Control, and Manipulation Theme Icon
The Presence of Evil  Theme Icon
Music and Romantic Fantasy Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Appearances and Deception

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” opens with a physical description of its fifteen-year-old protagonist, Connie—a pretty blonde girl living in 1960s America whose life revolves around bickering with her family, hanging out with her friends, and drooling over boys. Right away, Oates makes clear that Connie is highly conscious of her looks; she has a “habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make…

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Agency, Control, and Manipulation

The teenage Connie frequently bristles against her mother, who attempts to control her daughter’s behavior and encourage her to be more like her responsible older sister, June. Yet where Connie seems somewhat at the mercy of her family at home, she holds an effortless kind of control over the boys she has sexual encounters with, and she takes pleasure in the simple sense of power this gives her. Oates introduces a subtler kind…

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The Presence of Evil

In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” fifteen-year-old girl Connie is confronted—and it’s implied, raped and killed—by a sinister stranger named Arnold Friend. As the story unfolds, Friend manipulates and terrorizes Connie to such an extent that he becomes an embodiment of evil. In fact, the story goes so far as to suggest that Friend might be a personification of death, or even the devil himself—the very picture of violence, danger, and…

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Music and Romantic Fantasy

Throughout the story popular culture—particularly music—is presented as a medium through which adolescents make sense of their inner emotional lives. As a fifteen-year-old girl who struggles to get along with her family and enjoys nothing more than spending time with her friends and flirting with boys at the plaza, Connie is highly attuned to music and the affect it has on her. Connie herself is described in musical terms: she wears “jingling” charms on…

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Loss of Innocence

Over the course of the story, fifteen-year-old Connie is eager to appear like a mature young woman, and she believes a key aspect of this is to engage in sexual experiences. As such, she uses her good looks to attract the attention of boys and feels her knowledge in this area makes her independent and powerful. Connie’s desire to fast-forward her adolescence and become an adult, however, is fulfilled in a cruel and sinister way…

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