Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.
"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" A Feminist Perspective
The short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates can be interpreted from a feminist perspective. There are many parts of the story that seem to symbolize the oppression of women. The protagonist, Connie represents women and where they stand in our society, whereas the antagonist, Arnold Friend, represents men and their attitude toward women. The story symbolizes the exploitation of women by men, and how women allow themselves to be controlled.
Girls Just Want to Have Fun
In the beginning of the story, Connie is obsessed with her looks and with picking up guys. Even though her mother seems to like her sister, June, better, Connie feels that her mother really does like her more than her sister, since she is the prettier of the two. This shows how women are valued more for their looks than for their personalities. Her life is pretty much limited to shopping, hanging out with friends who are just as shallow as she is, and trying to meet guys.
When Connie's father dropped her off at the shopping plaza, she and her friend went across the street to the restaurant where the older kids hang out instead. Their intent was simply to talk to cute older guys. The fact that one of Connie's main concerns in life is picking up guys may imply that too many women make finding a man their primary goal in life. She met a guy named Eddie and sent her friend away while she sat in his car with him for a few hours. She doesn't really care about the guys' personalities, just that they are cute and have nice cars. Later in the story, while looking back on the different guys she met at the restaurant, she thought to herself "[b]ut all the boys fell back and dissolved into a single face that was not even a face, but an idea (615)." She really just wants to be with a guy, any guy. This may signify that women just want to have a husband who can provide for them and a future family, rather than really finding someone with whom they are compatible. This goes back to the idea that women are supposed to only want a husband and a family out of life and are a failure if they don't have a man.
A Woman's Place
While Connie's family was away at a barbecue, which she did not want to attend, a car pulls up in front of her house. The driver was a man named Arnold Friend, who had seen her at the restaurant when she was there with Eddie. He tries to convince her to get in the car with him and his buddy, Ellie. His car is covered in various words and slogans, including "done by a crazy woman driver" near the smashed-up fender. This shows that Arnold doesn't respect women and thinks that men are superior. He tells Connie that she is his lover, and that she doesn't know what that is yet, but she will. He tells her "I'll come inside you where it's all secret and you'll give in to me and you'll love me" (621). This shows that he views Connie as nothing more than a sexual object. He tells her that, even though she may not like it at first, she will love him once he is done. This shows that men think that they have the right to do whatever they want to a woman sexually, and that women are supposed to be submissive and just take it. This also may represent the fact that many women think that, if they just give in to the sexual advances of a man, that they will fall in love with each other and everything will be all right.
Connie tries to get away from Arnold by going inside to call the police. He tells her that he won't follow her inside, but as soon as she touches the phone, he doesn't have to keep his promise. She goes inside and locks the door, but Arnold informs her that there is no point in locking it, as the screen door can't keep him out. Connie asks Arnold what he's going to do, and he replies "Just two things, or maybe three. But I promise it won't last long" (623). This shows that some men are only concerned with their own sexual pleasure, and don't care about making sure that the woman is satisfied.
Connie does end up touching the telephone, so Arnold does go inside. Connie collapses onto the floor and is too weak to dial. Eventually, she got up, and Arnold was standing in the doorway. He told her to put the phone back, and she obeyed and followed him outside. As she walked outside with Arnold, "she was hollow with what had been fear, but was now just an emptiness" (624). This signifies that she has finally given up the fight and is now willing to submit to Arnold. This represents the tendency that some women have to willingly allow their lives to be controlled by men. Connie is giving up her independence to go with Arnold. The story overall is about how women continue to allow themselves to be defined by the men in their lives and their willingness to be submissive, both sexually and in general, and to be controlled by men.
Oates, Joyce Carol. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been." An Introduction to Fiction. Ed. X.J.
Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 10th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. 613-24.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on June 13, 2018:
Sounds like a good story. I'll look for time to read it. It's online in pdf. I'm reminded of Charles Perrault's "Little Red Riding Hood". So are women dependent on isolation, modesty, and heroic men to protect them from sexual predators, or can they rely on themselves, backed up by their "sisters"united for mutual support and by feminist-friendly laws and social norms? How might the story have unfolded if Connie and her parents were feminists?
Anusha Jain from Delhi, India on June 12, 2018:
Glad to see that you have reviewed the story with a contemporary angle. It's not an ideal world, but with more people made aware, we could at least start in the right direction. I hope more people perceive and review as you have. Have a great day, Jennifer.