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 by the appearance of a strange adult man named Arnold Friend. Friend forces a heightened level of sexual awareness upon Connie—and then presumably rapes her, forcing her to give up her sexual innocence. Though the reader understands Connie has previously taken part in consensual sexual activity with boys her own age, it is suggested that she’s still a virgin, and this lack of knowledge or experience enables Friend to use sex in a threatening way to frighten and provoke her. The tragic impact of the story is rooted in how unwanted and irrevocable this loss of innocence is; by raping and murdering Connie, Friend takes away both her innocence and her young life.
Sexuality is introduced as a natural part of adolescence, as Oates makes clear that Connie enjoys spending time with boys and has thus far only had positive, consensual experiences. After her impromptu date with Eddie, for instance, they spend time together in his car “down an alley a mile or so away.” Later, when she reflects on her time with Eddie and other boys, she describes that it is always “sweet” and “gentle.” Many of Connie’s thoughts revolve around boys, and she and her friends spend time at the plaza in the specific hope of meeting boys. Oates may paint Connie as a little boy-crazy, but she is ultimately a normal fifteen-year-old girl. Much of the media Connie consumes (including popular music) largely centers on sex and love as well, perhaps leading Connie to believe herself more mature than she actually is.
Friend, however, represents a distinctively adult—and malicious—type of sexual encounter that Connie cannot yet understand or hope to control. After Connie’s initial refusals to get into the car with Friend, he begins to tell her, “You're my date. I'm your lover, honey.” Connie responds with shock and dismay, but nonetheless he repeats his claim and suggests that he intends to rape her: “Yes, I'm your lover. You don't know what that is but you will.”
Friend’s use of distinctly graphic, sexual language both frightens and appalls Connie: “And I'll come inside you where it's all secret and you'll give in to me and you'll love me.” In response, Connie tells him to “shut up” and covers her ears as “if she’d heard something terrible, something not meant for her.” Her discomfort reflects the gravity of the situation, but it also emphasizes that—despite her experiences with boys—she is still largely innocent about sex. Though Connie intuits what Friend’s intentions are and can grasp the full meaning of his words, she also wants to resist the knowledge he is trying to impart and, in this way, makes a flimsy attempt to preserve her innocence. Friend also uses sexual imagery and portrays sex with him as an inevitability over which Connie has no control. This goes against the grain of Connie’s own sexual experiences, which have all been “gentle” and consensual.
In this way, Oates makes clear that Friend uses sex and sexual knowledge to force Connie’s adolescence to an unnatural conclusion and jolt her into a kind of cruel adulthood. Through the fact that Connie has only had positive experiences prior to meeting Friend but still resists Friend’s advances, Oates seems to be suggesting that adolescence is a necessary period for young people to discover sexuality on their own terms, and that for a third party to force this discovery in any way can have dangerous and terrifying results. She also seems to suggest that sexual awareness, if delivered prematurely or violently, is extremely traumatizing.
Loss of Innocence ThemeTracker
Loss of Innocence 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.
Connie sat with her eyes closed in the sun, dreaming and dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love, the caresses of love, and her mind slipped over onto thoughts of the boy she had been with the night before and how nice he had been, how sweet it always was […] sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs […]
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.
“Yes, I'm your lover. You don't know what that is but you will,” he said. “I know that too. I know all about you […] I'm always nice at first, the first time. I'll hold you so tight you won't think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you'll know you can't. And I'll come inside you where it's all secret and you'll give in to me and you'll love me—"
“My sweet little blue-eyed girl,” he said in a half-sung sigh that had nothing to do with her brown eyes but was taken up just the same by the vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him—so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it.