Character Analysis of Connie in Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been

In the short story “Where are you going? Where have you been?” written by Joyce Carol Oates, the main character and protagonist Connie is expressed throughout. In the highly sexualized society in which she is surrounded by, she follows the stereotypical role of the American teenager. She fits this role by showing her vanity, lacking a sense of independence and being ignorant in her encounter with the antagonist Arnold Friend. Her personality and view of herself shift throughout the story and the duration of her encounter.

In the start of the story, it is obvious that Connie views herself as sexually mature and expresses her vanity by being concerned with her looks and the way she is viewed by others. It begins with a description of Connie, and in that it writes that she has a habit of looking into mirrors. Mirrors are viewed at as two different things in this, one being physical reflective mirrors, and the other being the mirror of people’s faces.

Constantly looking at herself in physical mirrors she passes is somewhat expected of any person, however, looking into the faces of others as means of assurance expresses a completely different form of what it means to be vain. By looking at the faces of others, she could be comparing her own beauty to theirs, or she could be looking for reassurance in the way that they react to seeing her.

This comparison between herself and others can also be seen when she says that another girl is a “dope” and that she “always drew thick clear lines between herself and such girls” while talking to her mother (Oates 1194).

Get quality help now
Sweet V

Proficient in: Culture

4.9 (984)

“ Ok, let me say I’m extremely satisfy with the result while it was a last minute thing. I really enjoy the effort put in. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

While she is at the Big Boy, a boy from her high school invites her friend and her over.

Connie doesn’t like the boy, and the story writes “It made them feel good to be able to ignore him” (Oates 1193). In this, she is placing herself on a pedestal and viewing herself as some sort of higher entity who others are not worthy of. She also compares herself to her sister, who she thinks is lesser than her, and later her mother, who she believes is jealous of her beauty.

Connie is resistant to expressing her role as a daughter and as a sister in the beginning of the story by comparing herself to her mother and her sister, June. In the first paragraph, she expresses that she is aware that she herself is beautiful, and that’s why her mother doesn’t care for her. She thinks that because she is beautiful, her mother is jealous because she no longer is, and she sees herself in Connie. Connie describes her sister as a heavy-set nobody, and that her mother only prefers her sister because she works.

However, she later reveals that she believes her mother secretly likes her better than her sister, purely because she is more attractive. She expresses distaste for family time when her family is going to the barbeque, and rolls her eyes at her mother and tells her that she doesn’t want to go. In this, she is expressing the qualities of a stereotypical teenager who rejects spending time with her family.

In addition to her vanity and opposition for her family, she represents a typical middle-class teenager through her rebellion and ignorance. She shows her rebellion by going to the Big Boy, while she is supposed to be at the mall or the movies. When she and her friend enter the Big Boy, it writes that “their faces pleased and expectant as if they were entering a sacred building that loomed up out of the night to give them what haven and blessing they yearned for” (Oates 1193).

While the act of going to the mall and hanging out at the Big Boy are typical acts within themselves, they represent the much larger issue of ignorance. Connie does not see that this place she idolizes is empty and represents the never-ending loop she is trapped in. The circling of cars in the parking lot show that she is caught in the repetitive action of going to the mall and Big Boy, and focusing on the wrong things in life, like her looks and getting boys attention. Throughout the story, she is focused on boys, and the attention she receives from them. She is constantly thinking of the dates she goes on, and how she looks for them. These types of attitudes are common among middle-class teenagers.

When Arnold Friend shows up at Connie’s house, there is a dramatic shift in the story and in the way Connie feels. At first, she is how she has always been. When the boys pull up in her driveway, she is initially concerned with how she looks, and when she first meets Arnold Friend, she is “careful to show no interest or pleasure” in attempts to make herself look too good for him (Oates 1195). In this encounter, she visualizes how she must have looked to him and finds pleasure in the fact that she knows she looked good, and that he had remembered her (Oates 1197).

However, when she is faced with the problem of “going for a ride” with Arnold Friend, she heavily lacks independence in her situation. In the start of the story, she views herself as sexually independent and finds pleasure in the opinions and attraction from boys her age, and older men. But, when she is faced with the attention from Arnold Friend, she becomes uncomfortable and nervous.

She doesn’t try to defend herself against his crude sexual remarks, and laughs along with him throughout their encounter. He continues to demean her for the whole of their conversation, and not once does she attempt to correct him. She entertains his advances by asking questions and not making her distaste very apparent by repeating phrases similar to “maybe you guys should go”.

When it comes to escaping the situation, she largely follows what Arnold tells her to do. She supplies a good amount of empty threats that she never goes through with and once she actually starts to call the police, she puts the phone down like he tells her to, and eventually does go with him in the end.

Now perhaps the reason she went along with Arnold, and ended up doing what he wanted her to do, is because of her attraction towards him. When they first meet at the Big Boy, and he calls out to her, she says she can’t help turning back around to look at him. Connie initially doesn’t know who Arnold Friend is, but when he shows his interest in her, she seems to be flattered.

She then describes him in detail, and says she likes how he is dressed, as his clothing reflects what most other boys her age are wearing. She says that she recognizes his smile, and “the sing- song way he talked, slightly mocking, kidding, but serious and a little melancholy”, but she cannot place where she knows these things from, which adds to the mystery of Arnold Friend (Oates 1198).

Arnold Friend also threatens Connie with hurting her family if she does not go with him. He says, “But if you don’t come out were gonna wait till your people come home and they they’re all going to get it” (Oates 1201). Soon after, Connie runs inside and screams for her mother, which is a dramatic change from how she felt in the beginning of the story, where she rejected her mother and believed herself to be independent. He continues to threaten her with hurting her family and eventually says “You don’t want them to get hurt… Now, get up, honey. Get up all by yourself” (Oates 1203).

This is the place in which Arnold Friend finally convinces her to come with him. Connie has essentially been “conned” by Arnold Friend into coming out of the house, talking to him, putting the phone down, and eventually following him.

Regardless of her reason of giving into Arnold Friend, Connie should be both pitied and scorned in her actions. At her age, Connie is very ignorant and that is natural and cannot be helped besides with experience and age. Therefore, in this situation, this is largely what would be expected from someone the same age, and from the same environment as Connie. In the time this story takes place, the society was highly sexualized and women were viewed as sexual objects. In this, it would be out of place for Connie to fight against Arnolds advances, which only increases his perceived power over her.

She doesn’t have the experience to know how to handle herself in these kinds of situations like her encounter with Arnold Friend, and she is easily influenced into believing what he is telling her. He threatens Connie with hurting her family, and this is a common tactic used on people of all age groups, therefore one wouldn’t expect her to do anything much different than she did in this situation where she feels so hopeless.

However, on the opposing side, Connie should be scorning her for her actions because of her lack of common sense. She entertained Arnold Friend throughout their conversation, and she should have had more sense to realize that he was not a good person to continue to talk to, regardless of her attraction to him or his power over her. This should have been especially evident after realizing that he was lying about his height and his age. She also doesn’t think twice when Arnold Friend brings up the dead woman down the street, in which he makes it fairly evident that he could have killed her.

Connie is a dynamic character that experiences a dramatic shift in the middle of the story. While most other characters remain consistent throughout, Connie transforms from a girl who views herself as sexually mature and independent into one who is rather childlike and in need of her family. By being overpowered by Friend, she realizes that she is not as strong as she believed, and proves that she is still very much a child. Connie soon realizes that in the highly sexualized culture in which she lives in has its consequences, and in a society where women are viewed as sexual objects, beauty and boys are not everything.

Cite this page

Character Analysis of Connie in Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been. (2023, May 05). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7