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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

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 Joyce Carol Oates’s prize-winning story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” takes up troubling subjects that continue to occupy her in her fiction: the romantic longings and limited options of adolescent women; the tensions between mothers and daughters; the sexual victimization of women; and the American obsession with violence.  Inspired by a magazine story about a serial killer, its remarkable portrait of the dreamy teenager Connie has made it a feminist classic.  Connie’s life anticipates the emergence of American society from the social innocence of the fifties into the harsher contemporary realities of war, random violence, and crime.  The story was the basis for the movie Smooth Talk, which became the subject of much feminist debate.

This casebook includes an introduction by the editor, a chronology of Oates’s life, an authoritative text of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been,” an essay by Oates on Smooth Talk, the original Life article about the serial killer, ten critical essays (including two about the film), and a bibliography.
The contributors are Brenda O. Daly, Christina Marsden Gillis, Don Moser, Tom Quirk, B. Ruby Rich, R.J.R. Rockwood, Larry Rubin, Gretchen Schulz, Marie Mitchell Oleson Urbanski, Joyce M. Wegs, Marilyn C. Wesley, and Joan D. Winslow.


178 pages, Paperback

Published November 1, 1994

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About the author

Elaine Showalter

68 books121 followers
Elaine Showalter is an American literary critic, feminist, and writer on cultural and social issues. She is one of the founders of feminist literary criticism in United States academia, developing the concept and practice of gynocritics.

She is well known and respected in both academic and popular cultural fields. She has written and edited numerous books and articles focussed on a variety of subjects, from feminist literary criticism to fashion, sometimes sparking widespread controversy, especially with her work on illnesses. Showalter has been a television critic for People magazine and a commentator on BBC radio and television.

(source: Wikipedia)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 179 reviews
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,432 reviews811 followers
May 29, 2023
“Be nice to me, be sweet like you can because what else is there for a girl like you but to be sweet and pretty and give in?—and get away before her people come back?”

Supposedly inspired by Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, this is a very short, dark little story about what to me seems a reasonably typical self-centred, 15-year-old girl who’s convinced life is better somewhere else with someone else, doing something else.

Teen angst, anger, frustration, can’t-wait-to-grow-up-and-show-them-all-how- special-I-am-ism.

I’ve always figured all kids go through some form of this as Nature’s way of getting us ready to leave the nest so we don’t have all generations piled up on top of each other in some sort of feudal, walled city. That’s what I told my kids as they all got a bit antsy, and I still think that’s largely the case.

Connie's parents are woefully out-of-date (of course) and her older sister is 24, boring, working responsibly and still living at home (there goes my theory), so Connie listens to the usual pleas of why-can’t-you-be-more-like-your-sister?

Why do we even say these things to kids? What good can it possibly do?

For deep and meaningful discussion, I could guess that her name is really Constance, and that’s what she finds boring in her life. All is constant, nothing changes. She and a girlfriend spend their evenings in the company of various boys, pretending to their parents they’re going to the movies together. She craves some excitement. [Be careful what you wish for!]

“Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home.”

In the carpark, a guy she doesn’t know flirts briefly with her from his car. On the day this story takes place, her family has gone to a boring barbeque with friends. She’s far too cool for such an outing, so she opts to stay home, when what to her wondering eyes should appear . . . Arnold Friend dropping by.

I don’t know if his name is also a play on words (an old friend) or not, but it’s such a peculiar, heat-hazy kind of afternoon that it’s all a bit surreal. Connie stays inside the screen door while the “boy” (of indeterminate age) tries to sweet-talk her into coming for a ride with him and his friend in his too-cool-for-school gold car with slogans painted on the side.

She tries to put on her cool, evening persona to live up to his obvious expectations, but as he starts bragging about how much he knows about her and her family, she gets more and more nervous.

“Connie stared at him, another wave of dizziness and fear rising in her so that for a moment he wasn't even in focus but was just a blur standing there against his gold car, and she had the idea that he had driven up the driveway all right but had come from nowhere before that and belonged nowhere and that everything about him and even about the music that was so familiar to her was only half real.”

Yeah. That’s what I wondered. Is she hallucinating? She senses Arnold getting weirder and weirder. Telling his friend in the car to back off and leave the talking to him, Arnold says

“Don't hem in on me, don't hog, don't crush, don't bird dog, don't trail me," he said in a rapid, meaningless voice, as if he were running through all the expressions he'd learned but was no longer sure which of them was in style, then rushing on to new ones, making them up with his eyes closed. "Don't crawl under my fence, don't squeeze in my chipmonk hole, don't sniff my glue, suck my popsicle, keep your own greasy fingers on yourself!”

It's a short short story and you really should have a look yourself. I’ve not read Oates before (possibly started something once), but I can see why she’s got so many fans! Must find some more.

I haven’t read the Spark notes or discussions yet, so I may be WAY off the track. Get a copy of it here (free) and see what you think. It's only a dozen or so pages long.


Thanks to the Goodreads Bound Together Group's monthly short story discussion for this. https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

In 2023, it is another good read from the Goodreads Short Story Club which you can join and then follow the discussions for each story. There’s no requirement to participate, but the conversations are always interesting.

The Short Story Club
Profile Image for Kathy.
40 reviews12 followers
July 3, 2007
I read this second semester of my freshman year of high school. It was when I was running for Miss Lenexa and we were selling candy to raise money for the Legler Barn. I ate almost all of my own Milky Way bars, and to this day, every time I read one of the short stories from this, I can taste a Milky Way.
Profile Image for Marica.
343 reviews134 followers
September 10, 2018
Vanità di Cappuccetto rosso
Questo è uno dei più famosi racconti di Joyce Carol Oates ed è in effetti molto potente. Si parte come una sceneggiatura di Happy days con tre ragazzine che vanno di nascosto in un bar drive-in e occhieggiano i ragazzi più grandi, valutando quanto sono alla moda e di bell'aspetto: il trionfo della frivolezza dell'adolescenza. Poi si materializza il destino (?) che punisce la civetteria di una ragazza, che aveva soppesato con lo sguardo un tipo, il quale si era fatto delle idee. Nell'introduzione è scritto che il racconto riprende i sermoni medievali che invitavano le fanciulle alla modestia, illustrando le conseguenze di una condotta imprudente; in effetti, nel XX secolo, JC Oates ha scritto un racconto morale, riprendendo inquietanti dettagli da un caso di cronaca che aveva turbato gli USA. Singolare coincidenza, il racconto fu pubblicato nel 1966, lo stesso anno di A sangue freddo, di Truman Capote: stessa collocazione negli Stati Uniti centrali, desolati e spazzati dai venti.
JC Oates è una scrittrice molto talentuosa, ma la sua vena nera toglie la voglia di uscire di casa; oppure, a seconda dei casi, fa venir voglia di fuggire nel vasto mondo, nell'anonimato.
Mi viene voglia di aggiungere che le brave ragazze vanno in paradiso, ma quelle cattive vanno dappertutto, sia pure a loro rischio e pericolo.
Profile Image for Liam Porter.
194 reviews46 followers
May 8, 2023
In this frightening story, a sinister stranger called Friend preys upon Connie, a 15-year-old teenager who is left home alone. Connie falls into Friend's predatory clutches not through his aggressiveness (his physique is described as "bony"), but through Friend's cleverness with words. The satanic figure seduces her in spite of his frightening appearance; in spite of his unkempt hair and bony physique. Despite his delusions, he argues relentlessly, incessantly, and this barrage of possessive, entitled assertions is enough to break her will to assert her own boundaries. Friend argues:

1. The screen door, if locked, can easily be smashed: "Why lock it? It's just a screen door, It's just nothing."
2. The parents - only several streets away at a neighbourhood BBQ - are disposed and inaccessible "They ain't coming."
3. He has her favourite music in the car, and she will enjoy the ride
4. he is (already!) her lover... she just doesn't know it yet: "you washed your hair and you washed it for me. It's nice and shining and all for me. I thank you sweetheart."
5. her indecisiveness is a cause of embarrassment: "Connie, don't fool around with me. I mean - I mean, don't fool AROUND," he said, shaking his head incredulously."

By the time she goes out to be embraced by Friend, she is a zombie. The story ends with the sight she sees from the car window: "so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it".

Friend's delusional arguments represent patriarchal entitlement in its extreme form: the abduction and rape of women. At the time of writing, the world was coming to terms with the notion of a serial killer, and the murder of women with a sexual motive. The rationale of Friend reflects a presumption of ownership, of overwhelming self-confidence which women can feel powerless to counter in the context of society's tacit acquiescence. What is particularly creepy is how Friend's speech is scattered with the corny language of popular songs: an indication by Oates that the story is not mere true crime, but an allegory for mainstream views.

The prelude to Connie's actual meeting with Friend seems to establish Connie as a regular suburban girl. She follows the rules, happily. Her character is true to adolescence, on the brink of adulthood.

Some of the critical essays included in my edition have pointed out there is something heroic about Connie's sacrifice. I find this interpretation difficult to reconcile with her zombified attitude at the end of the story: "....so much land...."

If it was a sacrifice, who was saved? Friend drives a gold car. He is so inconspicuous that he might have stepped out of a fairy tale. The threat to the family is not credible; the visit happens in broad daylight; she has a lock between she and him; even if the lock had been forced she could have run and jumped fences. She could have screamed and screamed again. I think that she is quite simply brainwashed, and Carol Oates, a feminist, wants us to take the story allegorically: a message about predatory male sexuality and female submission to its glib, underhanded language.
Profile Image for Nina.
376 reviews30 followers
April 6, 2021
Tematika priče je vrlo uznemirujuća, a koliko sam do sad uspela da saznam o Džojs, žena veoma voli da teroriše svoje likove (posebno žene). Nije baš my cup of tea, ali skidam kapu za to kako maestralno piše i vodi radnju. Iako vas podilazi jeza od njenih rečenica, ne možete a da se ne divite njenom talentu.
Profile Image for Hazel.
177 reviews20 followers
March 19, 2019
Super disturbing but still intriguing!!
Profile Image for Shari.
255 reviews26 followers
February 5, 2013
Oates has been known and acclaimed for her unique show-and-tell narrative style. In this story, she demonstrates the truth in this. Where are You Going, Where Have you Been? tackles the simple themes of beauty and ugliness. The narrative creatively explores their dark sides through a beautiful teenager, Connie, and a stalker, Arnold Friend, who lures and threatens Connie with the simple use of words. There are very few narrative/declarative parts in this story. In fact, you will mostly read dialogues between two people. And yet – and here is where Oates genius lies – nothing can be more descriptive of the characters and their situation. Through simple dialogues, Oates managed to convey the terror of a girl trapped by a man who covets her for her good looks. Skillfully presented and explored without crime actually happening, only a promise of what it will be, the conversation between Connie and Arnold gives a new perspective on beauty, of how it can be a blessing – and a curse.
Profile Image for Sarah Schantz.
Author 4 books100 followers
July 26, 2017
This is a fabulous source for anyone who teaches the now infamous and widely anthologized story by Joyce Carol Oates or for anyone who is as obsessed with the story as I am.
Profile Image for Sarah.
32 reviews2 followers
April 28, 2022
this was insane!!! i loved it!! it started off sweet and simple. just a teenage girl with some mommy issues. then BAM shit hit the floor real quick. My heart was beating so fast and my skin was crawling. i LOVED it!!! its kinda sad that this shit is a little realistic and that stuff like this happens to people. overall, such a good story. I recommend to people who love a little thrill or honestly anyone. it kinda had perfect blue vibes kinda but not really. i definitely see myself rereading this when i need to get out a slump or when i want something short and simple to read.

update: sam and i are discovering new information and possibilities of what happened
Profile Image for Dee.
205 reviews42 followers
May 26, 2023
A story of childhood innocence and the danger of trying to grow up too soon.
I wasnt familiar with JCOs work until now but i was powerfully gripped by this haunting tale.
It can be a beautiful world but also an ugly one and reading this really gets all aspects of your being into motion. My heart was racing with fear for this little girl. I was baring my teeth at the pages in protection for her. Hoping to keep the evil away.
The writting style is fabulous and the message is loud and clear. What a writter. She really grabs your full attention and keeps it.
Profile Image for Rivka.
161 reviews10 followers
August 26, 2015
I've been mulling over this short story for a couple of days and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I didn't feel the story was *creepy* like some have said, although I can understand why some would feel that way. Mostly I was just irritated that she didn't say no and slam the door or go running into the yard screaming at the top of her lungs. And that no one had taught her to do that. I gather this was supposed to be a sort of psychological illustration or interpretation of Alleen Rowe being lured by Charles Schmid but I don't feel I understand her decision or reaction any better for having read this. It is well written and disturbing but I can't say I'm glad to have read it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Oziel Bispo.
500 reviews68 followers
January 20, 2019
Connie é uma adolescente insuportável, rebelde ,que adora brigar com a mãe, caçoar da irmã e dos mais velhos. Um belo dia toda sua família vai a um churrasco e ela fica sozinha em casa. O dia promete : ficar sozinha , curtir , ,aproveitar o sol e lavar o cabelo. Um verdadeiro céu! Só que de repente um carro buzina à sua porta com dois jovens dentro..Não tinha como melhorar o dia mas melhorou! só que mal sabe ela que essa visita será um verdadeiro encontro com o diabo.
Profile Image for Amanda Alexandre.
Author 1 book35 followers
March 12, 2016
So... JCO is a genius. She is. Not all of us see it, because her narrative cleverness is delivered in the less pretentious way possible, but the way she describes without describing, with emotions portrayed mostly by dialog, I think it's rare. And genial.
Profile Image for C.C. Rising.
Author 1 book4 followers
February 6, 2017
Joyce Carol Oats packs a powerhouse of psychological fear in this classic short story, a fear more menacing than any gun, knife or weapon. The main character is pretty fifteen-year-old Connie, who longs to break free from the chains of her jealous mother, emotionally absent father and boring, steadfast older sister. She does so by daydreaming, listening to music, sneaking away to a drive-in restaurant with her friends and experimenting sexually with boys.

The psychological terror begins one Sunday afternoon when Connie refuses to accompany her family to a barbecue and is home alone. Two boys in a convertible gold jalopy pull into her driveway. She recognizes one of them from the drive-in restaurant the night before, Arnold Friend. Friend invites her to take a ride with him. At first, Connie is flattered by his attentions. But she grows increasingly afraid when she realizes there is something wrong with him—he wears a wig and has trouble walking in his boots—and is much older than he claims. When she threatens to call the police, he threatens to harm her family upon their return. Connie then feels she has no choice but to leave with him—at her own peril. Connie sacrifices herself for the family she once disdained.
Profile Image for Laxton Jennifer.
16 reviews
January 1, 2020
Just finished re-reading this for a Master's thesis-- it is amazing and layered. The first time I read it, I was so distraught that I told my teacher that no one should ever read it, especially not high school kids. On the second read, I knew everyone needed to read it, especially high school girls.
Profile Image for Cindy  Dracula.
139 reviews10 followers
February 26, 2015
I was panicking throughout the whole thing. I'm not feeling too good about the subject but we can't pretend evil isn't out there. Four stars for good portrayal of bad reality.
Profile Image for Jeniece.
15 reviews
September 15, 2015
This short story was a bit disturbing but kept me intrigued the entire time.
Profile Image for Mariam.
907 reviews65 followers
February 7, 2017
I understand why a story like this would be very important for us to read but reading it only made me feel very upset. I mean, Connie, the fifteen year old MC, in the end goes along with the "murderer" (though it isn't confirmed but my professor relayed his whole theory of the numbers painted on Friend's car symbolized the ages of both himself and his victims). What I didn't like was how Connie was portrayed as this 'wild' girl whose simple eye contact with Friend led to his growing interest to a level of stalking her and finding out the smallest detail about her family's schedule. Did Connie 'deserve' to have a mcfreaking possible serial killer on her trail JUST because she dared to share eye contact with the man? This short story only made me more apprehensive of men and more protective of teenage girls.
Profile Image for Kevin.
369 reviews18 followers
April 3, 2018
I don't think this story was meant for me. That being said it was still a lot of nothing until the end, when clearly *something* happens, but I don't know what the point of it was or what it meant.
Profile Image for Maria.
238 reviews1 follower
July 21, 2020
I would like to read this actual book, which contains the story plus a lot more material about it. I only read the story itself, but it's a doozy! One of the creepiest little tales I have ever read, and I did not expect that at the beginning! And it has so much more going on than the actual events depicted, I feel like this story alone could be the basis of a whole women's studies college class. And, it is dedicated to Bob Dylan! I couldn't think why as I read. It mentions music frequently, but nothing in particular. Then after I finished it I googled the story and read that it was inspired by real-life murders but also, Oates was inspired to write it after hearing the song "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Interesting!
Profile Image for Marianne.
3,393 reviews142 followers
January 13, 2018
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been is a short story by Joyce Carol Oates available free online at https://www.cusd200.org/cms/lib/IL010.... While her bald-headed daddy, her ever-critical mommy and her good-example older sister, June have gone to a Sunday BBQ, fifteen-year-old Connie, restless and rebellious, has stayed home to wash and dry her hair. Bold as you like, Arnold Friend and his little mate, Ellie drive right up the driveway. Arnold is insisting Connie come out for a drive. Connie hangs back behind the screen door, considering. Arnold is persuasive, almost hypnotic. But Arnold feels dangerous. Arnold says shocking things. Connie is surely not going to take the risk? A quick read that packs quite a punch.
Profile Image for Bones.
2 reviews
January 20, 2022
I don’t remember a lot of things from high school, but I do remember reading this and being able to hear the old screen door creaking with the warm southern wind and feeling my fingertips reach for the landline
Profile Image for Nisha Sadasivan.
Author 3 books16 followers
February 22, 2019
Is this a horror or a thriller? Doesn't make much of a difference to me. Fabulous writing. and pretty scary. Human fantasies and follies are beautifully portrayed.
Profile Image for krystal 𓆸.
63 reviews51 followers
September 16, 2021
WOW can't believe how anxious this short story made me i did not enjoy that at all (except i did because the writing is perfect and joyce carol oates is a marvel) but jesus christ
3 reviews1 follower
March 29, 2015
Choices, throughout our lifetime we must all make them. Can you remember how difficult it was to choose an outfit during the emotional hurricane known as adolescence? Joyce Carol Oates’ Where are you going, where have you been?, depicts a teenager’s hormonally distorted views of sexuality, vanity, and the dangers that come with it. For many of us, we can relate to the main character, Connie, as she slowly strays away from the moral path in search of excitement. I found this short story enjoyable and excels in questioning the morality of the choices youth makes.
Connie, an attractive 15 year old, is constantly scolded for not being more like her homely sister June. Feeling trapped in suburbia, she secretly yearns for the companionship from the opposite sex. She meets teenage boys at a hamburger shop, but seems more interested in the idea of being with a boy than the actual boy himself. Skipping church one Sunday, Connie meets Arnold Friend. Arnold is a smooth talker, who drives a beat up gold colored car, but all is not what it seems. Accompanied by his friend Ellie, Arnold attempts to convince Connie to join him for a ride. After her initial refusal, Arnold’s polite invitations turn into threats of physical harm to Connie and her family and seems to possess an almost mystical power over her.
Raised in a Catholic home, Oates bring religious moral undertone to the story. It proficiently questions the morality of today’s youth and the ease to fall into temptation which might bring dire consequences. The title Where are you going, Where have you been?, questions if the path that one takes is the morally correct path. Another example of dangerous choices, is when Arnold first arrived Connie’s home. She looked at herself in the mirror, concerned about her appearance, then stood at the doorway with “her bare toes curling down off the step”. She stood at the threshold of the safety of her home, not caring of the possible danger that lurked outside.
Oates’ short story effectively questions today’s youth and the decisions they make as they stand in the moral crossroads of life. It tackles the subject of vanity, sexuality, and the ability to influence youth. This short story makes the reader question some the choices her or she made during adolescence and warns present day teens of the possible dangers in society today.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 179 reviews

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