REVIEW: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates

Yesterday, I noticed I got a visitor to my blog who was searching for the answer to this question: “is “where are you going, where have you been,” by joyce carol oates, a fairy tales too?”. Typos aside, I can answer this question and more, as I read the short story last night. The following is my review of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates.

• “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been: Selected Early Stories by Joyce Carol Oates
• Paperback: 522 p
• Publisher: Ontario Review Press, 1994
• ISBN: 0865380783
• Genre: Classic American Literature; Short Story; Horror
• Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys well-written short stories, classic 1960’s American literature, social commentary, or even a bit of horror.
 
Quick Review: An unforgettable story that serves as a cautionary tale to young women about wolves in sheep’s clothing.
 

How I Got Here: I read this story for a class in college and have been haunted ever since. Now, over ten years later, I wanted to re-read it to see if it was still as creepy as I thought it was as a 20-year-old, naive woman. I chose this story to satisfy the Peril of the Short Story task of the R.I.P. challenge.

The Book: My synopsis:

Connie is a very pretty and very naive teenager in 1960’s America. She loves music, boys, and exploring her sex appeal. While at home with her family, she fulfills the persona of a good girl, but when she is away, she flirts and sneaks off with boys, enjoying her burgeoning sexuality. One night, she catches the eye of Arnold Friend, a strange young man with a messy mop of black hair and a flashy gold car. He says “I’m going to get you baby,” and by summer’s end, he goes to her house to make good on his promise. Yet, Arnold Friend isn’t like any other boy she has met before.

My Analysis and Critique: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” certainly is a kind of modern fairy tale. Or, rather, it is a fairy tale without the “fairy” part. Many well-known fairy tales, in some way, tell of an innocent, virginal girl being pursued and/or attacked by an older man. In essence, “Little Red Riding Hood” is about a pubescent girl on the verge of womanhood (the red hood = menstruation) being attacked by a wolf (an older, hairy man) in the woods. These attacks in fairy tales are usually just allegorical for rape. In this way, the same tale is being told in Oates’ “Where Are You Going,”. Instead of a man characterized as a wolf, the girl is tricked by an older man in a young man’s body. As Connie, the female protagonist, looks closely at Arnold Friend, she realizes he is not a young man at all- he seems to be wearing a wig and makeup to disguise his older face. He comes to her house, demanding that she come out and go for a ride with him, which she resists behind a screen door (Three Little Pigs?). Whereas a fairy tale allegorizes this story with fantastic creatures and settings, Oates displays it in reality. Yet, it tells the same tale.

However, there are some otherworldly features to Oates’ short story. Arnold Friend disguises himself as a typical teen: “a boy with shaggy black hair, in a convertible jalopy painted gold.” Yet, as Connie looks closer, she realizes her aggressor is not what he seems– he rattles off typical teen sayings like he memorized them for a part:

“‘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 he gets really creepy, perhaps demonic. He seems to be wearing a tan-colored makeup on his face to hide his translucent skin which is visible on his neck, and at one point she notices his boots don’t fit right: “One of his boots was at a strange angle, as if his foot wasn’t in it. It pointed out to the left, bent at the ankle.” Perhaps, he has hooves? Then there is his name, which is screaming anagram: ARNOLD FRIEND = AN OLD FRIEND or AN OLD FIEND. Something surely isn’t right about this creepy guy who seems to know everything about Connie’s family, including what her family is doing at this very moment at a family picnic. Without a doubt, he is more than what he seems.

I highly recommend this story–it’s a classic, modern American short story, many times anthologized, and definitely delivers in creepiness. When I was 20, reading it for my Creative Writing class, I was afraid for Connie, and momentarily afraid for myself. Yet, just like Connie, I was naive and in love with being young. Today, I shudder at the risks I took as a young co-ed at San Diego State University–walking alone at night, leaving my dorm room unlocked, getting drunk and cornered in lascivious male neighbor’s apartment. Dumb I definitely was. Somehow, I came out of it unscathed and I was definitely lucky for that. I certainly didn’t earn it. It’s a scary world out there, and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” certainly reflects that.

Links:

  1. Full online text of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”: The Joyce Carol Oates Homepage at usfca.edu
  2. An excellent review from Coffee and a Book Chick, which includes further discussion on academic essays written on the story and a 1980’s movie based on the story.
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