“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 sure her own was all right.” As the story unfolds, it seems that Connie’s attractiveness is the foundation of her self-worth and also provides her with a degree of control over boys, giving her a sense of independence and power. However, appearances also play a sinister role in the story. Through Arnold Friend, a strange adult man who arrives at Connie’s home and kidnaps her with the intention to rape (and possibly kill) her, Oates demonstrates that appearances can be dangerous and deceptive.
Initially, Connie believes her appearance gives her a kind of elevated status. At the opening of the story, she thinks her mother is jealous of her good looks because her mother’s own beauty has long since faded. Connie’s mother scolds her daughter for her vanity, yelling, “Stop gawking at yourself. […] You think you’re so pretty!” In response, Connie thinks to herself that “she knew she was pretty and that was everything.” The conflict between Connie and her mother is a power struggle rooted in appearances—and since Connie is the one who still has her good looks, she is the one with the power. Connie knows that she can use her appearance to her advantage; traits like her “long dark blond hair” frequently draw “anyone’s eye,” and she enjoys both the attention she attracts and especially the power she has in being able to reject or accept boys’ advances.
Connie’s appearance is also often deceptive, however. Connie looks and behaves differently when she is at home and when she is out with her friends: “Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head.” Connie presents one version of herself at home so that she seems agreeably childlike and innocent to her mother, and another version when she is out with her friends and wants to appear alluring and confident.
It is Connie’s mature, seductive appearance when she’s out—itself a sort of costume—that then attracts the strange, deeply deceptive Arnold Friend. When Friend first catches a glance of Connie, he can’t stop staring, and says, “[I’m] Gonna get you, baby”—a creepy moment that foreshadows her abduction. Later, Friend admits, “I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl, and found out all about you.” He rattles off a list of things he knows about Connie, including her best friend’s name and that her parents and sister, June, are gone. Arnold himself points out that his predatory interest in Connie comes from the fact that she’s “such a pretty girl.”
Friend is the story’s strongest example of shows how appearances shouldn’t be trusted, and this deceptiveness takes an outright sinister turn when he shows up at Connie’s house. At first, Friend seems like a normal teenage boy; he’s dressed “the way all of them dressed,” and his smile assures Connie “that everything [is] fine.” However, it’s soon clear that Friend’s clothes, car, speech, and even his taste in music are all part of a carefully-crafted disguise.
Furthermore, Friend claims to be eighteen, but she can tell that he’s at least thirty years old—a realization that makes her heart “pound faster,” as she realizes she’s in genuine danger. Slowly, Friend’s guise is dismantled. Studying him more closely, Connie also notices that other aspects of his appearance also seem fake. His hair looks like a wig, and even his “whole face was a mask.” It seems that Arnold Friend has invested a great amount of time and effort into concealing his actual appearance, and that he doesn’t want Connie to see his true self.
Oates, has stated that Arnold Friend is based on Charles Schmid, a serial killer in Arizona who stuffed his boots and wore makeup. Schmid, like Friend, charmed and manipulated young women. This connection leaves the reader in no doubt as to Connie’s fate, and highlights that appearances can be used to cover up malicious intentions. There are also suggestions that Friend’s real identity is supernatural in nature, further emphasizing that appearances can be dangerous. Most startlingly, Friend knows everything about Connie, including where her family is and what they are wearing and doing at this very moment. When he reports these details, it seems like he is peering into some kind of vision
As his disguise falls apart, it becomes increasingly clear that Arnold Friend means Connie harm, and that her good looks in this moment offer her nothing in the way of independence, power, or control. Oates thus spins a cautionary tale, emphasizing that although appearances can sometimes serve as a source of validation or power, they must not be relied upon—they can be deceiving, dangerous, and even fatal.
Appearances and Deception ThemeTracker
Appearances and Deception Quotes in Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
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. Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn't much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it.
Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head; her mouth, which was pale and smirking most of the time, but bright and pink on these evenings out; her laugh, which was cynical and drawling at home—“Ha, ha, very funny”—but highpitched and nervous anywhere else, like the jingling of the charms on her bracelet.
He was standing in a strange way, leaning back against the car as if he were balancing himself. He wasn't tall, only an inch or so taller than she would be if she came down to him. Connie liked the way he was dressed, which was the way all of them dressed: tight faded jeans stuffed into black, scuffed boots a belt that pulled his waist in and showed how lean he was, and a white pull-over shirt that was a little soiled and showed the hard small muscles of his arms and shoulders.