A Feminist Analysis of "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates

Updated on June 11, 2018
JenniferWilber profile image

Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.

Too often, women feel they're voices cannot be heard.
Too often, women feel they're voices cannot be heard. | Source

"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.

Like most teenage girls, Connie spends a lot of time hanging out with her friends at the shopping mall, checking out cute boys.
Like most teenage girls, Connie spends a lot of time hanging out with her friends at the shopping mall, checking out cute boys. | Source

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.

Connie just wants a cute boy with a nice car.
Connie just wants a cute boy with a nice car. | Source

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.

In the end, Connie gives in to the pressures of a patriarchal society.
In the end, Connie gives in to the pressures of a patriarchal society. | Source

Her Downfall

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.

Source

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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Jennifer Wilber

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • B. Leekley profile image

        Brian Leekley 

        5 months ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

        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?

      • anusha15 profile image

        Anusha Jain 

        5 months ago from Delhi, India

        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.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)