Joyce Carol Oates Deception in the Book Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been

Ever heard of “don’t judge a book by its cover” or how about ‘appearances can be deceptive’? Well unfortunately in today’s society a majority of us tend to always focus on appearance. People are influenced to judge others by their physical appearance, since visual information is the first kind of information one gets about a person they meet for the first time. The English language has many expressions and sayings that communicate warnings about physical appearance not being an accurate indication of a person’s character.

And yet, most cannot help but make judgments about people based on their physical appearance. Open-minded people know that physical attractiveness or beauty is not important. However, there are indications of how that person feels about himself or herself, and these aspects of that person’s appearance provide some insight into that person’s personality (if not his or her character). There are situations where one will be judged by their physical appearance and won’t be able to do anything about it.

But many times there won’t be time to speak about self-appearance so appearance must do all the impressing. The author Joyce Carol Oates was inspired to write about the deception of looks in “Where are you going? Where have you been?” Where she placed the main character Connie in a situation where she ends up doubting looks in the end of her act. After researching and analyzing Connie’s self-development and character progression, it is in fact true that she became a victim of her own actions.

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Oates’ short story starts off by introducing Connie, a teenage girl with self-absorbed conceitedness. Her mind set in a world where being pretty is everything and believes guys are easy. She knows how to draw the attention and recognizes the negative complaints towards her. One of those complaints is when her mother brings her down and compares her to her praised older sister. This only leads Connie to isolate herself from her family and to think ill of her mother and sister. But like her sister she is also given the right to see her friends. When she’s around her friends she often complains about her mom and sister. She worries about her friends before family. While she’s out with friends she uses her looks to lure guys in her direction which gives her flirtatious characteristic trait. Everything goes her way until one day, a guy by the name of Arnold Friend catches her eye with his appearance. Which meets up with her ideal type. She also catches his eye and tells her ‘I’m gonna get you baby’. Little did she know the next day he would arrive in front of her driveway while she was home alone. She at first doesn’t recognize him. But sure did knew about her including her name and where her family was at the moment. Her usual act and assumptions dissolve into panic and questioning. She refuses his ride and goes inside her house and tries to call her family however, his threatening gets to her to freeze up. His image now becomes blurry and her actions become unthinkable. She has no choice but to self-sacrifice and joins him as a new fate awaits for her. (83-94)

Looking to what Joyce Carol Oats wrote, it seemed like Connie had a different sense of self-perception of herself in the beginning. In the opening lines of the story, Connie seems like the type who is full of themselves, with high self-esteem, shallow, and very egotistical. Those traits all together could possibly suggest a sense of insecurity: Connie ‘had a quick nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors, or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right'(83). This insecurity could have resulted from her mother,: ”who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn’t much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it”(83). Another thing that could have affected it is her mother’s constant comparisons of her older sister and how she should be more like her due to how mature her sister has become unlike her. Mentioned from earlier, this led her to think ill of her mother and sister which is why she has low opinions on their appearances because she believes with her looks she’s better than them. Which makes her who she is in this story. In a Baseline analysis, revealed:

statistically significant differences in contingencies of self-worth by appearance between genders with girls attributing 15% higher importance to contingencies of self-worth by appearance compared to boys. Baseline analysis also revealed, girls reported on statistically significant higher values, compared to boys, in their perception of the level of the impact of popularity (14%), and impact of appearance (27%). Both genders considered admired people to be the lowest contributor. (‘In Favor of Myself’ Wellness Program)

This research could be what led to her character’s psychological behavior. Oates wrote, ‘she knew she was pretty, and that was everything”(83). Connie might sound arrogant but little from we know she could have been going through something which we do not know of. Although she has a shady perception of her place in society, she is confident of her undeveloped sense to be accepted.

In the short story, Connie’s character is affected by those who she interacts with and her surroundings also. Oates explores the influence of peers and society on teenagers’ actions, with a focus on the contrast between difficult parental expectations about moral behavior and those suggested via popular songs and movies. Connie has different approaches on certain people whether family, friends, or boys. Even though Connie is from a good family and appears to be cared for, she still is immune to becoming a victim. When it comes to.. In this story, Oates pays special attention to the mother-daughter relationship with the lack of meaningful communication between them. In the end, it is her mother for whom Connie cries for; her last thought before she finally pushes open the door is that she will never see her mother again. If either one of them had made the effort to communicate, Connie might have remained safely a teenager until she’s old enough to choose the future.

Connie has a bit more to her than her appearance (persuasion)…

The encounter that Connie and Arnold Friend have in the climax of the story reveals more to Connie’s character to the reader. As soon as Arnold says: ‘I took a special interest in such a pretty girl’ to Connie as he tells her frighteningly specific details about her life, he speaks in ‘a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting the words to a song’ to soothe her (88). She realizes in the next moments he’s not who she thinks he is. Even as Connie realizes the situation, it turns dangerous, and she still cannot move to action. Friend seems to have a preternatural knowledge of exactly what each member of the family is doing at the picnic they, which critics have used as evidence to prove that Friend is not a real person at all, but rather a manifestation of the devil. The rest of the story must be understood in the context of Connie’s shock and panic. When Connie runs to the phone, but in her panic cannot act, instead she begins screaming into the phone as though she were being stabbed. When she stops screaming, Connie’s whole attitude is changed. Seemingly resigned to her fate she moves out toward Friend. At his point Connie is already ‘gone’: ‘hollow with what had been fear, but what was now just an emptiness'(93). In her understanding of what will ensue, Connie appears to actually move out of her body in an effort to blunt the events to come, she feels ‘this body wasn’t really hers’ anymore (93). Arnold consoles Connie by expressing her actions as a sacrifice. It is unclear whether or not Connie understands or accepts this choice because her state of shock is so intense. Connie’s depersonalization is complete as she is described leaving with Friend. The development of Connie’s passivity and paralysis is key to understanding exactly why and how she completely changed after.

While Oates definitely emphasizes the theme of the deception of appearances in her short story, some feel that other themes are centered around the abuse of looks. Oates’s open-ended symbolism invites many different interpretations from the very start. Starting with the protagonist herself, Connie’s identity is dangerously shaped by outer influences. Oates deals with several elements of society and culture in the short story. Which could lead

In conclusion, Connie fell over the deception of appearance and ends up in a sense of insecurity. Her insecurities lead her to think differently, she became self-praiseful of her looks, and distant from her family. Connie’s character was affected by those who she interacted with including: family, friends, and boys. She ended up crying for her mother, her last thought before that she will never see her mother again. Her surroundings also affected her character. ******Connie’s encounter with Arnold Friend and her panic changed her character completely. Opposing views of Connie’s character and role suggest that she…. The confidence and self-absorbed conceitedness vanishes when she met a man that led her to her terrible fate. Connie starts off a rebel and becomes a victim leading towards the end of the story. After analyzing and looking deeper to what she was going through and expressing her behavior, she seems to have surrender to herself in the end instead. Her insecurities was taking over most of her actions Connie’s character in the beginning of the story.

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Joyce Carol Oates Deception in the Book Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been. (2022, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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