Top Bottom Home Site Map Topic Previous Next Top
philjohn.com
philjohn.com
home \ essays & papers \ by topic \ literary studies \ oates. where are you going, where have you been
 

JOYCE CAROL OATES

"Where Are you Going,
Where Have You Been"
Seminar Handout (in collaboration with fellow students)

Section Index


  1. Quotes from the Text
  2. Background
  3. Thoughts and Questions on the Text
  4. Other points for discussion / Questions
  5. Text and Web Resources

  What's Related  
  Subseq. Pages - Essays & Papers  
 






1. Quotes From the Text

Joyce Carol Oates
(*1938)

(the end)

"Her name was Connie."

[34; factual statement in past tense, like in a police report]

(the beginning)

"Now she remembered him even better, back at the restaurant, and her cheeks warmed at the thought of how she had sucked in her breath just at the moment she passed him—how she must have looked to him. And he had remembered her."

[42f]

(music)

"... and listened to the music that made everything so good; the music was always in the background, like music at a church service; it was something to depend upon."

[36]

"Connie let the screen door close and stood perfectly still inside it, listening to the music from her radio and the boy's blend together."

[44]

"Part of those words were spoken with a slight rhythmic lilt, and Connie somehow recognized them—the echo of a song from last year, about a girl rushing into her boy friend's arms and coming home again"

[49]

(a kid's perspective)

"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. [...] Connie would raise her eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look right through her mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything."

[34]

"It was a car she didn't know. It was an open jalopy, painted a bright gold that caught the sunlight opaquely. Her heart began to pound and her fingers snatched at her hair, checking it, and she whispered, "Christ. Christ," wondering how bad she looked."

[40]

[Connie / Arnold Friend] "'Where?' 'Where what?' 'Where're we going?' He looked at her. He took off the sunglasses and she saw how pale the skin around his eyes was, like holes that were not in shadow but instead in light. His eyes were like chips of broken glass that catch the light in an amiable way. He smiled. It was as if the idea of going for a ride somewhere, to someplace, was a new idea to him. 'Just for a ride, Connie sweetheart.'

[43, Arnold Friend trying to be childishly irresponsible]

[Connie] "'Shut up! You're crazy!' Connie said. She backed away from the door. She put her hands up against her ears as if she'd heard something terrible, something not meant for her. 'People don't talk like that, you're crazy,' she muttered."

[47 – childish reaction to unwanted talk]

[Arnold Friend] "'I toldja shut up, Ellie,' Arnold Friend said, 'you're deaf, get a hearing aid, right? Fix yourself up. This little girl's no trouble and's gonna be nice to me, so Ellie keep to yourself, this ain't your date right? 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 rushing on to new ones, making them up with his eyes closed. 'Don't crawl under my fence, don't squeeze in my chipmonk hole, don't sniff my glue, suck my popsicle, keep your own greasy fingers on yourself!'"

[50f, imitating kid speech]

"She cried out, she cried for her mother"; "She thought, I'm not going to see my mother again. She thought, I'm not going to sleep in my bed again. Her bright green blouse was all wet."

[52 – first thought is of her mother]

(Arnold Friend)

"It was a boy with shaggy black hair, in a convertible jalopy painted gold. He stared at her and then his lips widened into a grin. Connie slit her eyes at him and turned away, but she couldn't help glancing back and there he was, still watching her. He wagged a finger and laughed and said, 'Gonna get you, baby,' and Connie turned away again "

[37]

"She stared at Arnold Friend. He stood there so stiffly relaxed, pretending to be relaxed, with one hand idly on the door handle as if he were keeping himself up that way and had no intention of ever moving again. She recognized most things about him, the tight jeans that showed his thighs and buttocks and the greasy leather boots and the tight shirt, and even that slippery friendly smile of his, that sleepy dreamy smile that all the boys used to get across ideas they didn't want to put into words. She recognized all this and also the singsong way he talked, slightly mocking, kidding, but serious and a little melancholy, and she recognized the way he tapped one fist against the other in homage to the perpetual music behind him. But all these things did not come together."

[44f]

[Arnold Friend] "I don't like them fat. I like them the way you are, honey"

[47; whom, women or victims?]

"Then he began to smile again. She watched this smile come, awkward as if he were smiling from inside a mask. His whole face was a mask, she thought wildly, tanned down to his throat but then running out as if he had plastered make-up on his face but had forgotten about his throat."

[48]

(Arnold & Ellie)

"Ellie, put that away, didn't I tell you? You dope. You miserable creepy dope," Arnold Friend said. His words were not angry but only part of an incantation. The incantation was kindly."

[53 – Ellie used as a scapegoat and decoy, spoken to like to a kid]

(the talk)

"She spoke sullenly, careful to show no interest or pleasure"

[40]

[Arnold Friend] "'Connie, you ain't telling the truth. This is your day set aside for a ride with me and you know it,' he said, still laughing."

[42]

[Arnold Friend] "Now, what you're going to do is this: you're going to come out that door. You're going to sit up front with me and Ellie's going to sit in the back, the hell with Ellie, right? This isn't Ellie's date. You're my date. I'm your lover, honey."

[47 – speaking to her like to a child or to a subordinate, using simple commands, not merely giving an order but stating it as a fact]

"Arnold Friend said, in a gentle-loud voice that was like a stage voice, 'The place where you came from ain't there any more, and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out. This place you are now—inside your daddy's house—is nothing but a cardboard box I can knock down any time. You know that and always did know it. You hear me?'"

[52]

"he didn't want to make her self-conscious"

[53]

(changing)

"Connie stared at him, another wave of dizziness and fear rising in her so that for a moment he wasn't even in focus but was just a blur standing there against his gold car, and she had the idea that he had driven up the driveway all right but had come from nowhere before that and belonged nowhere and that everything about him and even about the music that was so familiar to her was only half real."

[46]

"She was panting. The kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before, some room she had run inside but that wasn't good enough, wasn't going to help her."

[48]

"She was hollow with what had been fear but what was now just an emptiness."

[52]

"She thought, I have got to think. I have got to know what to do."

[52 – but she doesn't think]

"He ran a fingernail down the screen and the noise did not make Connie shiver, as it would have the day before."

[53]

"She felt her pounding heart. Her hand seemed to enclose it. She thought for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that wasn't really hers either."

[53 – distancing]

"She put out her hand against the screen. She watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were back safe somewhere in the other doorway, watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited."

[54 – detached]

"the land behind him and on all sides of him—so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it."

[54 – the unknown land = death: "The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn/No traveller returns" (Hamlet III,1)]







2. Background

"My story had an ending one might call tragic, since the heroine surrenders to death. She in a sense is transcending her mortal self; she arises above her particularity and she's going to ascend to death. She looks out from the screen door, and she sees the organic world, which is the world from which we come, and we're composed of, and she's going to go to that world and she's going to die. A man has come for her, a rapist, and he's going to kill her."

(Chat with Joyce Carol Oates, http://www.salon.com/06/departments/litchat2.html)

2.1. Charles Schmid, the Pied Piper of Tucson

The story is loosely based upon the true story of Charles Schmid, born 1942, a serial killer in Tucson, Arizona, called the "Pied Piper of Tucson". He was able to lure girls into being with him, until he finally killed one girl and two sisters later. He was finally caught through a confession of a former confidante, convicted for life and killed in jail by other inmates in 1975. When he killed the first girl, Alleen Rowe, he lured her out of her house, a friend of his waiting in the car. "Smitty" wore stuffed boots and virtually talked his victim into his car. He also claimed to have some hallucinogenic or psychic powers.

Joyce's writing the story was influenced by these happenings and the above cited Bob Dylan song:

"Oates had read part of the article printed in Life magazine and thought this killer was such a strange character, with his stuffed boots and awkward gait. Yet to her mind, he embodied something elusive about adolescent culture and its hidden dangers. That such a man had somehow charmed three teenage girls whom he subsequently killed inspired her to write a short story from the point of view of a potential victim. What would it take, she wondered, for a young girl to be lured by a man who obviously had little going for him? What might he have said and done to win her trust and get her to walk straight into her doom?

The story came to Oates 'more or less in a piece' after reading the article and hearing Bob Dylan's song, 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.' She was reminded of folk legends of 'Death and the Maiden' and saw within this situation in Tucson an archetypal element. She dedicated her story to Dylan and used some of the words from his song."

(Katharine Ramsland, "Charles Schmid, the Pied Piper of Tucson", Crime Libraries Online, http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial2/schmid/index.htm)

2.2. The Secret Code – "33, 19, 17" [41]

Old Testament, counting backwards, the 33rd section is Judges. Chapter 19, verse 17:

"And the old man lifted up his eyes and saw the wayfarer in the street of the city; and the old man said to him,
Where are you going? And whence do you come?"

(solution proposal by Randy Souther, http://storm.usfca.edu/~southerr/archive024.html)

2.3. Bob Dylan: "It's all over now, Baby Blue" [1965]

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last.
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun,
Crying like a fire in the sun.
Look out the saints are comin' through
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense.
Take what you have gathered from coincidence.
The empty-handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.
This sky, too, is folding under you
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

All your seasick sailors, they are rowing home.
All your reindeer armies, are all going home.
The lover who just walked out your door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor.
The carpet, too, is moving under you
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who's rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

2.4. Psychological Aspects

Especially in the later parts of the story, Connie changes in the face of the inevitable. The conditions observable with her may be described as

  • Denial, suppression: She doesn't seem to realize the danger, she might have developed fear at the end, but still the situation seems unreal to her and she goes out, she doesn't think about the consequences, she only has a feeling of danger but cannot – or won't – analyze it.

  • Isolation of the affect: Connie tries to appear rational though filled with emotion, she tries to continue the conversation even if it is unbearable to her.

  • Distancing: To protect herself, Connie sees the situation as unreal, she detaches her mind and soul from her body and virtually watches herself from outside, through this detachment being able to save her self. This may be similar to protective mechanisms or even schizophrenia.







3. Thoughts and Questions on the text

Connie:

Connie is torn between growing out of her childhood and growing into being a women. She still has retained a certain amount of child-like behavior, but tries to be more adult, especially in talking to Arnold Friend. As a child, she still lives with her parents and is strongly dependent upon them, mostly upon her mother. As an incipient adult woman, she starts to care about her outfit and about boys. This strange guy from the bar coming to her home, taking her for a ride, that's the high time of her day. She is proud of his remembering her, and her initial reservedness perhaps resulting from her playing "hard to get". This changes when she notices something fake about Arnold Friend, something which makes her want to quit the conversation. The turn, however, takes place too late, Arnold Friend already has her in his hold. Having realized the danger, she chooses to give in, protecting her innermost self by falling into some state of trance or sleepwalking, distancing herself from her body. Arnold Friend, death, becomes her solution.

There's also a theory that the story may be a story of drug use (Kapper, "A Virgin in the Backseat Smoking Hash", see resources below), that this would explain the strange detachment and sleepwalking of Connie at the end. How could this proposal be supported or refuted?

Arnold Friend:

Arnold Friend is much older than Connie and cannot be said to be a child anymore, yet he lures Connie out by using imagery from childhood. He talks to her partly like a lover and a person of authority, he fakes listening to her and guides the "conversation" into the direction favored by him. His strange and even funny attire, most of all his boots, may serve to ridicule him, making him thus appear less threatening, like a clown perhaps.

Oates constantly referres to him as "Arnold Friend" while she could've easily used pronouns. Thus she underlines the overwhelming presence of Arnold Friend, he is the nemesis, the avatar of evil, at the end, the synonym for (violent) death. Like a puppet master he controls her strings, pushes her into doing something she would never do consciously (cf. also the X-Files episodes 3x17 "Pusher" and 5x08 "Kitsunegari").

As the text is based upon a true story, to what an extent can Arnold Friend be said to be a version of Charles Schmid? Where does fact meet fiction? Could the end of the story also be ambiguous and leading to a more positive outcome, like in the movie? Or is this solution already ruled out through the criminal case?

Ellie and Arnold Friend:

Ellie, Arnold Friend's partner, may partly serve as a comic relief both for the story and for Arnold Friend. Arnold Friend constructs Ellie as someone strange, even dangerous. Ellie is the mysterious stranger in the background, he controls the music and also opts for cutting the phone line. By repeated shutting him up, Arnold Friend creates the illusion for Connie that he himself keeps Ellie – the alleged bad guy – in control. It may be a game of good cop – bad cop; a charade to convince Connie that she'd be safe with Arnold Friend, that Arnold Friend would succeed in protecting her from the strange maniacal Ellie. Arnold Friend constructs himself as her only hope, her universe, her escape – through invoking fear, he estranges her even from her house and surroundings, at the end, he leaves her no choice but to stick to the last certainty in her life: him.

What other function could Ellie have?

Language

A children's perspective needs certain means to achieve it and to recognize it. There is use of children's speech in it, as when Arnold Friend tries to appeal to Connie's simple kid's self, but this is something used artificially by Arnold Friend. Connie, the kid, doesn't really use kid's language that much, but she draws on child-like concepts and child-like worries (see quotes).

Oates uses relatively simple language, alternating between being factual and between putting the scope of her narration more closely into the mind of the characters, she sometimes zooms into the actual thoughts and fears (as when Connie's perception changes), while on other occasions being rather detached. The perspective of the narrator in the text, however, is largely Connie's.

What further means of language can be examined in the text?

Structure

As a short story, the text rather jumps into the situation, giving only the most necessary details about the characters. The smooth talk is the main conflict. If ever, in how far is the ending surprising?







4. Other points for discussion / questions

  • What could be Arnold Friend's motivation for his actions? Is he a round character at all or just a shape without any profile? Could there be any kind of impulse behind his doing or is he just a misogynist?

  • To what degree is the text about children's perspective? Does it make sense to see it under that angle, or is this choice too artificial?

  • Why does Connie leave the house?

  • What importance should be given to the background material? Does the story benefit from outside material, from going into the discourse, or should it rather be discussed "as is", as a self-contained text? Does there exist something like a self-contained text anyway?

  • What significance does the music have in the piece? Why the constant referring to it? Is it a story about "Sex, Drugs and Rock'n Roll", or are these just background occurrences?

  • The film adaptation Smooth Talk  has an altered ending, a more positive outcome. There's the point of view that a story with an ending like this couldn't possibly be made into a movie without changing it.

  • Arnold Friend lures Connie out of her house. How? Just through talking, or does he have some kind of psychic powers? Is this a story about – or based upon – paranormal phenomena?

  • What does Arnold Friend offer Connie so that she follows him?

  • Can Connie be said to be a usual girl, or is there something about her which could make her more susceptible to Arnold Friend?

  • In how far does Connie reject the outcome, in how far does she welcome it?

  • What could be the relevance of the title?







5. Text and Web Resources:

Text and Criticism:

Web Resources:

The Film Adaptation:

(All internet links last checked and accessed May 4th 2000)

PJK
May 4th, 2000





© Phil John Kneis. all rights reserved   ·   philjohn.com - internet diary · poetry · serial photography

philjohn.com
pjkx.com
The Arts Circle