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 cruelty. This, combined with the story’s biblical allusions and moments of religious imagery, allows Oates to explore the nature of good and evil in the context of everyday life. The story particularly wrings fear and tension from its assertion that evil and death exist—or can infiltrate—anywhere.
Oates establishes the ordinariness of Connie’s life to suggest that her eventual, terrifying confrontation with Friend could happen to anyone. The story begins with the simple declaration, “Her name was Connie,” before diving into the details of Connie’s family and home. These include her tensions with her mother and elder sister, June, as well as the comparative absenteeism of her father, who is more concerned with his work than the squabbles of teenaged girls. Oates also informs the reader that Connie likes hanging out with friends and meeting boys. None of these details are particularly strange, and instead paint a picture of Connie as a perfectly normal fifteen-year-old girl.
The day that Friend comes to Connie’s house, her family is away at a barbecue that Connie hadn’t wanted to join. Though Connie is alone, a suburban home in the middle of the day is hardly the typical setting for a horror story—making Friend’s sinister presence all the more chilling and suggesting that the safety implied by “home” is in reality nothing more than an illusion, knocked aside as easily as the screen door Friend threatens to open if Connie doesn’t do as he says.
Of course, at first, Friend also seems like an ordinary, if odd, man. Yet he quickly becomes distinctly incongruous with the quiet suburban world in which he abducts Connie. As his conversation with Connie unfolds, he comes across as manipulative, sadistic, and threatening—in short, as pure evil.
Friend easily manipulates Connie, handily deducing her desires for romance and turning them against her. He makes her promises, but they are to break into her house if she disobeys him; he speaks in a sweet, lilting tone as he talks of graphic sexual violence and harming Connie’s family; his name is “Friend,” yet he is anything but that.
Friend clearly takes pleasure in perverting the quiet, normal world and values that surround Connie—that is, in robbing her of any sense of comfort or security. That he appears in an almost parodical form of a man—he wears mask-like makeup and wobbles across Connie’s porch in shoes stuffed to appear taller—makes this all the more disturbing, as if he is perverting not simply the world Connie holds dear, but humanity itself.
Even though Connie and her family are distinctly not religious, religious symbolism appears throughout the story—further creating the sense that, however normal she may be, Connie’s fate is tied to broader, near-mystical battles between good and evil. For example, Connie and her friends view listening to music as a kind of “church service.” Meanwhile, none of Connie’s family members “bothered with church”—a fact that contributes to Connie to being at home on the Sunday that Friend arrives.
The numbers written on the side of Friend’s car—33, 19, and 17—have distinct biblical undertones. Judges is the 33rd book of the Bible if counting backwards from Revelation, and verse 19:17 reads, “When he looked and saw the traveler in the city square, the old man asked, ‘Where are you going? Where did you come from?’” This clearly evokes the story’s title, suggesting perhaps that Friend does not belong in this world at all. Connie also repeatedly says “Christ” when flustered by Friend’s presence, creating a subtle invocation of good in contrast to the evil presented by Friend.
Through all these details, Oates imbues her tale with a sense of grand, inescapable evil that belies its suburban setting. The insidiousness nature of such evil is further bolstered by the fact that Arnold Friend was based on a real-life serial killer Charles Schmid, a.k.a. “The Pied Piper of Tucson,” who murdered three teenage girls and buried them in the desert in the early 1960s. Like Friend, Schmid wore makeup, stuffed his shoes to seem taller, and had striking (dyed) black hair; more sinisterly, he was described as particularly charismatic, and lured his victims through the use of his car, parties, and gifts. Schmid and Friend reveal how evil can exist anywhere, and that even the innocent are not safe from its reach.
The Presence of Evil ThemeTracker
The Presence of Evil Quotes in Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
She drew her shoulders up and sucked in her breath with the pure pleasure of being alive, and just at that moment she happened to glance at a face just a few feet from hers. It was a boy with shaggy black hair, in a convertible jalopy painted gold. He stared at her and then his lips widened into a grin. Connie slit her eyes at him and turned away, but she couldn't help glancing back and there he was, still watching her. He wagged a finger and laughed and said, “Gonna get you, baby,” and Connie turned away again without Eddie noticing anything.
“Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey,” Arnold Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 and raised his eyebrows at her to see what she thought of that, but she didn't think much of it.
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—"
Arnold Friend was saying from the door, “That's a good girl. Put the phone back.” […] She picked it up and put it back. The dial tone stopped. “That's a good girl. Now, you come outside.” […] She thought, I'm not going to see my mother again. She thought, I'm not going to sleep in my bed again.
“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.