Sample Paper on Joyce Oates’s Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Allegory in Joyce Oates’s Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Joyce Oates 1968 story, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, is a story about the fifteen year old Connie and her doomed search for freedom and happiness from the bounds and drudgery of her daily existence (Wilkie, n. pag.). Unlike her mother and plain sister, Connie is pretty and knows it, never failing to crane “her neck to glance into mirrors” or sometimes checking out other people’s faces to reassure herself that “her own was all right” (1). Connie has a love-hate relationship with her mother, who always picks on her, although she suspects that her mother prefers her to her sister due to her prettiness but cannot admit openly. Connie’s split identity is apparent in the different personas she adopts and the repertoire of actions she posses, “one for home and one for anywhere that was not home” (1). The complex mother-daughter relationship leads to Connie wishing that her mother “was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over” (1). Does Connie get her wish fulfillment?

The literary critic Marie Urbanski argues that Oates has filled the story with seemingly inane and innocuous descriptions, events and observations, which when carefully analyzed provide a framework upon which the allegorical significance of the story is built (201). Connie is young and a virgin, which is a figure for innocence and purity and a type of Eve before the fall, while Arnold Friend  is a type for Satan a wily foe who was not a youth and “was much older—thirty, maybe more” (5). The story is an allegory for the fall of man and the pervasiveness of evil in the face of which an innocent but morally vacuous young girl like Connie is powerless against hence her inability to rebuff Friend (Wesley, 256). The change in the description of Friend as the story progresses implies that Connie is slowly coming to the realization that she is in danger but still cannot move away from the moral precipice before it is too late. Connie initially describes Arnold as “a boy with shaggy black hair” (2), later as having ” shaggy, shabby black hair that looked crazy as a wig” (3) and finally commenting that one of Friend’s “boots was at a strange angle, as if his foot wasn’t in it” (7) conjuring images of the devil’s cloven feet.

Other incidences that build the inexorable increase of the sinister is the brightly painted gold jalopy, which had attracted Connie’s attention that on closer inspection turns out to be marked by black tar-like words and dents on the body, spoiling the effect of the golden color, an apt metaphor for a troubled paradise. The conversation between Friend and Connie starts out friendly enough but as it proceeds, the tone changes, becoming darker and ends with Friend overtly threatening Connie, telling her that if the house “got lit up with a fire,” she would be obliged to come out and that the house, which she considered as secure was just but a “cardboard box I can knock down any time” (8).

One of the consequences of the fall is separation and Connie is separated from her parents as she capitulates to the threat-laden seduction of friend on a day (Sunday) that is traditionally considered as a holy day that families spend time together. Separation is final with the death of the separated individual, obviating the need for reconciliation and re-establishment of the former tranquil state. The story’s dénouement is with Connie moving into the bright sunshine and vast land spread before her, “where Arnold Friend waited” (9). Paradoxically, despite the bright sunshine that is a type for openness and hope, the vast land evokes images of loneliness and helplessness, and the overwhelming sense is of Connie trapped by evil in the vast empty land with nowhere or nobody to turn to for help, an apt ending reflecting the development of Oates as a writer (Knudsen, n. pag.).


Works cited

Knudsen, James. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” World Literature Today 68.2 (1994): 369+.URL

Oates, Joyce. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? URL

Urbanski, Marie Mitchell Olesen. “Existential Allegory: Joyce Carol Oates ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’.”Studies in Short Fiction (Spring 1978): 200-203. URL

Wesley, Marilyn C. “The Transgressive Other in Joyce Carol Oates’s Recent Fiction.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 33.4 (Summer 1992): 255-262. URL

Wilkie, Brian. Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Ed. Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press. (1994) Print. URL