Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

Like all other fifteen-year-olds, Connie thinks she knows everything, and this mistaken thought makes her believe she does not need to grow up into adulthood, which she considers uninteresting. Connie stays at home after barbeque and engages in an exciting conversation with Arnold Friend. Before the narrative ends, while Connie is consumed in her life, she has not yet decided that many girls of her age associate with her. However, the twist in the tale happens when Connie realizes she has nothing else to do and the only decision she has to make is to go with Arnold. The story’s ending raises many questions about why Oates could not have chosen to change the twist and make Connie listen to her mother and presumably change her life. However, the questions are best left to the author, for only her understanding determines the reason for the story’s plot. Oates portrays a personality that is possibly going through a strong dose of psychoanalytic censure. Connie’s relationship issues define her social circle, and the essay illustrates the psychoanalytic association that makes Connie live the way she does.

Oates opens the tale, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” with a physical illustration of the narrator, Connie, as she compares herself to her mother. Connie is lovely and has the habit of constantly checking herself in the mirror, a reassuring sign of her beauty. However, the practice brings a lot of contention between Connie and her mother. From the story’s opening, it becomes clear that Connie’s mother disapproves of her bad habit. She says, “‘Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you’re so pretty?’ she would say” (Oates 595). “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” (Oates 595). “Her mother had been pretty once too…but now her looks were gone, and that was why she was always after Connie” (Oates 595). The habit of always bolstering her understanding of her beauty indicates that Connie was a victim of insecurity.

The inability to sustain one’s identity is a clear indicator that a person suffers from insecurity. With failure comes the need to maintain one’s sense of acknowledging self (Ringstrom 383). Connie makes the reader comprehend how she relies on it and that without her beauty, she would feel empty. Therefore, Connie would amount to nothing if her pretty face was taken away. With insecurity comes the vulnerability to succumb to the will of other people. The problems associated with uncertainty significantly add to the reason Connie leaves her place and drives with Arnold Friend at the narrative’s end. To Connie, Arnold is a mysterious character, but Arnold’s intention to kidnap Connie remains unknown from the reader’s point of view. However, the reader can infer the reason with ease; Connie’s beauty is the reason she becomes desirable to Arnold, regardless of the reason. Connie’s insecurity not only makes her hot but also becomes her cause of low self-esteem.

Connie is insecure about her self-worth, and with her insecurity comes her low self-esteem. Ringstrom argues “the belief that we are less worthy than other people” as the best definition of low self-esteem (383). The most horrible part associated with low self-esteem, as suggested by psychology, is that it results in victims the sensation that they are worthy of no matter what ending they get. Furthermore, Ringstrom shows that people end up believing that they deserve whatever form of punishment life gives them (383). In the case of Connie, she spirals into the low self-esteem sort, and almost certainly, she must have experienced her worthy of the way life treated her due to her disagreements with her mother. Connie is frustrated with her family, mother, sister, and father and becomes used to thinking that maybe her fate is her own making. The cause of low self-esteem and insecurity might also be due to Connie’s severe intimacy fear.

The broader psychological understanding of the fear of intimacy is the overwhelming feeling that serious hurt or destruction is attributable to being emotionally close to someone. In the tale, Connie’s fear of intimacy manifests in several instances. Connie’s regular outings with the boys she bumps into in the narrative mirror her fears of intimacy. The way she behaves around the boys she comes across at the drive-in eatery showcases the fear. The narrative never portrays whether Connie has an interest in the boys or whether she has been with any of them for more than one night. Unlike the friend Connie hangs with regularly, the other friends throughout the story are mercurial. The regularity with which she hangs with this particular friend is based on the understanding that her father periodically drives them to the mall. Oates shows the extreme casual reference with the way Connie references her friends, “She and this girl and occasionally another girl went out several times a week…” (598). While Connie hangs with her friend, the unsettling nature of her friend reflects the absence of a genuine relationship between her and her family.

Apart from the lack of desire to form genuine relationships with her friends, Connie has the same relationship challenge with her family. Connie notices that she only ever glimpses his father only at dinner and that “he didn’t bother talking much to them,” which is a clear indication that her relationship with her father does not have a mutual connection (Oates 596). Throughout the tale, Connie refers to her father once, and to the reader, it strikes a note that Connie does not bother, and she seems nonexistent despite her father being absent in her life. In her eyes, Connie’s opinion of June is that she “was so plain and chunky and steady that Connie had to hear her praised all the time by her mother and her mother’s sisters” (Oates 596). What is commonly associated with sibling rivalry brings out another perspective of intimacy fear in Connie’s life. She is afraid to be connected to anyone, does not bother, seems nonexistent, and chooses to see June based on her faults rather than the sister she is supposed to be in her life.

The sibling rivalry between June and Connie makes Connie think their mother favors June over her. The thought comes from the disconnected relationship between Connie and her mother, who, in Connie’s point of view, is highly contemptuous of her and favors June. Connie’s thoughts about her mother’s relationship make her go as far as wishing her mother was dead. In Connie was your everyday teenage girl, the reader would consider Connie and her mother to be having everyday conundrums between girls and their mothers. However, due to intimacy fear, Connie emotionally retreats from her mother, the one person she can rely on. Connie’s intimacy fear makes her relationship with her mother anything compared to the sacred relationship that many girls have with their mothers. At the end of the tale, the cause of Connie’s decision can be because of the absence of safety she should feel at her parent’s house. Arnold becomes the one person Connie associates with importance, even when she knows he represents a threat to her life.

While Arnold says things that do not seem significant to Connie, he is the one person who means everything to her. Arnold tells Connie, “…I promise it won’t last long and you’ll like me the way you get to like people you’re close to. You will. It’s all over for you here…” (Oates 605). The moment between Arnold and Connie marks the climax of the psychological problems faced by Connie in terms of intimacy, fear, low self-esteem, and insecurity. Albeit unconsciously, Connie discovers the three psychological issues from the statement Arnold makes. Connie is well aware that she and Arnold may never like each other but still choose to drive out of here with him. Connie has never had anyone to relate with by pushing everyone away, and thus, by going with Arnold, she has nothing to lose. Being gullible enough, Connie’s low self-esteem and insecurity make her think Arnold is right.

The life of Connie in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” presents the life of a character with several psychological problems. Due to her low self-esteem, insecurity, and fear of intimacy, Connie decides how her life should end. The psychological perspective by Ringstrom has shown how possible it has been to relate the problems encountered by Connie to psychological disorders that contribute to Connie’s decision to leave.

Works Cited

Ringstrom, Philip A. “Three Dimensional Field Theory: Dramatization And Improvisation In A Psychoanalytic Theory Of Change”. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, vol 28, no. 4, 2018, pp. 379-396. Informa UK Limited, Web.

Oates, Joyce Carol. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” High Lonesome: New and Selected Stories, 1966-2006. New York: Harper Collins..

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