Discussion of Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

 Post your answer in the comments below. Make sure to include the number of the question you're answering and either cut and paste the question or answer in complete sentences so that we know which question you're answering.


A-5, B-6, C-7, D-8, E-9, F-10, G-11, H-12, I-13, J-1, K-2, L-3, M-4

If you have further thoughts or questions about the story, please feel to also post these below. 

13 Questions To Ask of Every Story: 

1.          What makes this story “literary”? 

 

2.          Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

 

3.          Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

 

4.          Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

 

5.          Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

 

6.          Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

 

7.          Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

 

8.          Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

 

9.          Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?

 

10.      Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

 

11.      Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

 

12.      What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it? 


13.    How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

Comments

  1. 7. Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

    The character drives the story in this piece because the choices that she makes have a big impact on what will happen. If she hadn’t stayed home, Arnold wouldn’t have had the opportunity to find her home alone. The story isn’t as focused on a wild plot as it is on Connie and her interactions with her family and with Arnold. The relationships are what is the most important thing. The way that Connie acts with her family and the way they treat her causes her to react to other situations as well. Because she feels so disconnected from her family she decides to stay home and this is what triggers the final scene.

    I read this story last semester and it still gives me the creeps!

    -Bailey

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    1. Yes, it manages to be creepy but also not to be a thriller or genre story. It is absolutely character-driven.

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  2. 13. How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

    This story reminded me of Flannery O'Conner's "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" because of the frightening elements and the fact that both women face a crazy dangerous men at the end of the story. The women in both stories were also both very strong in their beliefs. Grandma's in her morals and Connie's in her belief that being pretty in the most important thing. The Misfit and Arnold were both manipulative, harmful, and prey on Connie and the grandmas emotions to get what they want. There isn't many differences in this story when I really think of it. The only difference I can think of is the women's reaction to their villain. Grandma believed she had changed the misfit and that he would spare her. Connie accepted the danger she was in and instead of trying to stop the man she went with him so that she could protect her family.

    - Zoe !

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    1. Yes, I almost think of these two stories as being part of a similar conversation, like this could be Oates' own version of the O'Connor story, constructed in much the same way.

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  3. 1. What makes this story "literary"?

    A: I suppose the key element that makes this story "literary" is the timelessness of the invoked emotions. This story is deeply unsettling, but the important part of that disturbing feeling is that it'll never not feel disturbing. The best horror stories feature monstrosities that'll always be universally feared. I think the fact that the fear in this story still resonates today as intensely as it did in 1966 is what makes this particular story "literary".

    -Alec

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    1. I agree with what you said here about the emotions being timeless. It also is easily recognizable as a literary story because of the language--the way the language pushes beyond the more minimal or ordinary description to reach for that "Poetic expression of a non-poetic truth."

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  4. 9. Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?
    The setting works in the story by it being set in reality where this kind of situation could actually happen. The worst thing is you could probably have this stalker and kidnapping situation set in modern day and could still be plausible (maybe even more in modern day) just by changing a few minor things. The key places are the drive in restaurant and Connie's house and they are described in just enough detail so that the reader can feel like they are there. When Connie is in the house in fear of Arnold, Carol has the two of them speak in realistic ways that these kind of people would react in this situation. For example, since Arnold wants to "go out" with her (implying kidnapping and possible rape) , instead of threating to harm or kill her, he threatens to go after her family. Since Connie is just a fifteen year old girl and likely doesn't know how to handle this kind of situation, she does go with him without a fight in order to protect her family.

    -Michael

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    1. I do feel like she does go with him to protect her family, certainly, but by the end it feels like eve3n more than that--that he has simply worn down her resistance in a variety of ways and she has nothing left to do but give in to it.

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  5. 4. Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

    The rich ground situation is Connie’s situation in the opening: her strained relationship with her mother who both loves and resents her, her all-but-absent father, and her plain sister, where the only excitement in her life is spent with her best friend at the restaurant near the mall, where the older high schoolers hung out. While out with her friend at the restaurant, she catches the eye of a boy in a car, who tells her he is “Gonna get you, baby.” The boy’s fascination with her seems like a throwaway detail at first, but quickly becomes important when he shows up at her house when her family is away at a barbeque, and knows her name, and intimate details about her life. With the boy (who is not a boy, but a man named Arnold)’s arrival, Connie’s situation takes a turn. There is a grim reality to Connie’s situation. She did not mean to catch the eye of this man, she did not want him to come to her house, she just wanted a night out with some friends, and maybe to meet some boys. But he did anyways, and Connie has to try to navigate and deescalate the situation for a slight Arnold’s made up in his head. I think that’s what makes this such an interesting piece. I think someone could argue that if Connie hadn’t gone out, and hadn’t been looking for attention from strangers, she would not have ended up in this situation, but I could just as easily argue that her doing so would not change Arnold’s obsessive and violent behavior. The victim could just as easily have been someone else. There’s the question of if this could have been avoided, or if this sort of unspeakable violence can’t be avoided as long as someone has their mind set on committing it.
    -Cassie

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    1. Good analysis here. I really feel by the end of the story it seems that all the details that led us there, the setting, her situation with her family, her ideas about boys and herself as an object, in a way, is what ultimately leads to her walking out of the house to Arnold.

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  6. 2. Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

    This story focuses on themes of parental preference and how that can affect a child's sense of self worth. A few times in a child's life if they had siblings have probably compared themselves to them in some way, or felt a big jealous when a sibling got more praise than they did. In the story Connie was not treated the same as her older sister and her self worth was hurt because of that, and would purposely seek attention from others when going out with her friends.
    I also feel like this story has persevered is because it's a real fear that many people have. The fear of being stalked by someone, especially in the age of technology. Someone being able to learn everything about you and showing up at your home or work is a horrifying thing to have happen. We put so much of our lives on the internet that really if anyone wanted to they could show up to our homes and list off our friends, family, likes, and dislikes. If anything this story is more relevant today than probably back when it was initially published.

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    1. True, it feels especially relevant. It would be really fun to write a modern version of this story, and I suspect it wouldn't feel much different. I also think, as I said in class, that the very simple reason that the story has endured is because it's so memorable, and it's so memorable because of the way it ends.

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  7. 10. Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

    "her face gleaming with a joy that had nothing to do with Eddie or even this place; it might have been the music. 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 glace at a face just a few feet from hers."
    I like this quote for several reasons. I love the pure, unadulterated love of life in these lines. It says so much about Connie's character. She is a young, free-spirited girl who just enjoys living. She does what she wants, and doesn't do what she doesn't. I also really like that the story never shames her for her behavior, she is instead portrayed as a person doing what people do. I also really like the use of foreshadowing. In the same sentence that Connie is observing how much she loves life, we are introduced to the person who will, most likely, murder her.

    "His eyes were like chips of broken glass that catch the light in an amiable way."
    I love the imagery of this sentence, it is so vivid. I also like how this perfectly sums up Arnold. He catches the light well. He appears young and cool. Connie initial likes the way he looks, like someone drawn by something shiny. But as one gets closer, he is a sharp edge that cuts anyone it touches.

    "She felt her pounding heart... She thought for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that was't really hers either."
    I think this is a heartbreaking line. Connie is so young, and hasn't ever had to face mortality. It doesn't occur to her until this moment that her life, as well as her death, isn't something completely in her control. Someone else has stolen that option from her. This story reminds me of "A Good Man is Hard to Find", but in that case, everything that happens is the grandmother's fault. In this story, Connie is completely innocent, all she did was happen to bump into this guy. In fact, I commend Connie for fight against Arnold for as long as she does. But this line makes what is about to happen feel inevitable, like how it is for anyone who found themselves in these situations. The evil towards innocence in this story is as inevitable as it is in real life.

    -Logan Ostler

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    1. These are great lines! Oates writes such good lines, also, not overdrawn but so vivid, capturing the emotions of the character so well. Gosh, the image of her pounding heart is so vivid and visceral, I'm a little in awe of Oates here.

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  8. 5) What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

    For me, it was the subject of getting into her car. And also having this guy know everything about her as well. This idea that she thinks her parents are like Arnold, but then she meets this man and everything goes out the window. Especially when in the story, they write;

    “But I know what it is. I know your name and all about you, lots of things,” Arnold Friend said. He had not moved yet but stood still leaning back against the side of his jalopy. “I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl, and found out all about you—like I know your parents and sister are gone somewheres and I know where and how long they’re going to be gone, and I know who you were with last night, and your best girl friend’s name is Betty. Right?”

    This idea is terrifying for a woman, that someone knows everything about you and will use that against you. You think that there isn't anything you can do if they already know all of this. And what they might do to your family. It really hits you hard and then leads to the downturn of everything else.

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    1. Certainly that's a point of high tension. I think it's even slightly higher when she starts to scream into the phone--that feels like the moment when the pot boils over to me. But the entire story is very tense.

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  9. 3. Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

    Every time I read this story, I get the same level of intense anxiety as I got the first time reading It. Joyce Carol Oates’s ability to create tension and reveal character with dialogue is truly astounding. It is what makes this story successful in my eyes, and is why people continue to study it and fashion their own stories based on the dialogue in it.

    Arnold Friend is an unnerving character that becomes terrifying, He appears to know everything that’s going to happen like he already knows everyone’s fate. He shows up at Connie’s house, and acts as if she’s supposed to know him and accept that her fate intertwines with his, saying “this is your day set for a ride.” At first, he’s strange, but overall, not threatening to Connie. As he continues to speak, his character becomes more alarming: he knows Connie’s name before she tells him it, he knows her family’s whereabouts and actions, he knows the people she goes to school with and her best friend, Betty, he threatens to enter her house by force if she calls the police, and he continually talks about sexually violating her.
    Stylistically, much of the dialogue is short, so the natural speed at which this story can be read is quick, which builds its tension. Connie’s quick responses to Arnold also unhinged Arnold because he sees Connie as difficult instead of compliant. This also builds tension because Connie’s actions and manners seem reasonable given the fact that she doesn’t know Arnold, but her rebuttals spark a quiet aggravation in him, which shows that he isn’t normal or a friend to Connie.

    Another reason this story might have been so successful during its publication in 1966, was because around this time women were beginning to discuss their sexuality, rights, and the loss of innocence they experience when they grow up. Connie’s loss of innocence and transition into adulthood are discussed throughout the piece when Arnold enters, claiming her as his own and what this means for Connie being only a 15-year-old girl.

    -Samantha Wolf

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    1. I especially like what you have to say in this last paragraph, about how this story fits into the time period in which it was written. I have always felt that Connie is conditioned to eventually give in to Arnold Friend, and we can see that from the beginning.

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  10. 6.) Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

    Both the actions portrayed by the characters as well as their dialogue showcase both the subtle personality traits as well as the the more direct difficulties at hand. The slow but deliberate actions taken by Arnold Friend to get ever close to Connie is both alarming as it is demanding. There is experience in his voice, as well as artificial comfort. His intent is made clear by his actions, but they're noticeable by the audience given both the direct and deliberate word choice of that which is spoken and that which is described. Connie, with her naivety and sheltered life, is the first to be described, and provides a backdrop for a realistic interaction, then confrontation, then complacency. The action of the story is balanced by what the author allows the audience to see, and the general disposition of both characters in relation to each other is explained eloquently.

    - Tomio

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    1. Yes. Actions speak even more than dialogue in this story.

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  11. 12. What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it?

    This short story definitely drew me in. I think that Joyce Carol Oates did an exceptional job of capturing the essence of a naive and innocent fourteen year old girl. I was surprised to see that this was written in 1966. Although the setting was a little dated, the emotions and intentions of the story were still relatable and understandable to me, as the reader. I think that as a writer-reader Oates use of language is exceptional -- very clear, but still with style. As a reader, it seemed like the 'moral' of the story is to not get so lost in your personal existence that you lose control and ownership of it. Even though Connie's family members are kind of a background wash to her, they contribute to the story in that there is a sort of pathos regarding the question of "would Connie have been safer if she had been closer to her family? or more supported by them?" Another lesson in tension buildup can be learned. The last 4-6 pages in the story just got harder and harder to read. Oates has a way of building a constant pressure that builds up to the ending. The part when Connie realized that these two men could have been in their 30s to 40s really hit me as a "yikes" moment.

    - Elizabeth S.

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    1. I would have answered in the exact same way: language and tension are both masterfully done in this piece, and worthy of study.

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