Often, writers reveal their thoughts in works not directly, but through details and trifles. It is these tools that are able to recreate the atmosphere and imbue the spirit of the story with the reader in order to better understand what is happening. Oates does the same in his work Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? It is necessary to analyze in more detail exactly how the setting and decorations affect the understanding of the plot by the reader, and how seriously they contribute to the idea of the work.
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Oates
The story tells about a girl who agreed to travel with a teenager of the opposite sex. Interestingly, their costly runs through the mall, ranch-style homes, and movie theaters. On the one hand, it seems that such details are unimportant against the background of the dialogues and feelings of the characters, as well as what is happening between them. On the other hand, it is precisely such a detailed description of the surrounding world that makes us understand absolutely the whole story exactly as the author intended. It is necessary to start with the fact that the city where the action takes place does not have a name (Oates 1). This is done to indicate that this is an average American provincial city of the mid-twentieth century. Such a detail explains that everything that happens in the story is typical for any part of the country, which means that it is not reasonable to blame a particular family or municipality. Meanwhile, the writer continues to describe the world around him in great detail.
Society is characterized by the formation of stereotypes and prejudices, which Oates skillfully uses. The writer mentions “the asbestos ranch house that was now three years old…” (Oates 3). The fact is that ranch-style houses or the described restaurants are the most striking association between America and the middle of the 20th century (Oates 2). This is done for a specific purpose, namely to bring in the spirit of innocence, fun and carelessness that people often imagine when they talk about those times (Carpi 233). The daily routine of family was like: “Sometimes they did go shopping or to a movie but sometimes they went across the highway…” (Oates 2). The whole image is complemented by shopping centers with their characteristic flows of people, bright signs and public noise: “drive-in restaurant where cars were still circling tirelessly…” (Oates 2). It gives the impression of the most ordinary day, where nothing bodes bad (Oates 2). Nevertheless, the atmosphere is barely noticeable, gradually building up, but the reader, like the main character, is distracted by the activity of people around, not noticing the signs may seem absurd.
Separately, it is worth noting that the totality of the city without a name and the time in which the story takes place gives a new meaning to understanding the situation. At that time, radical changes were taking place in society, new authorities and values were being introduced. Again, this can be seen by how many people are in movie theaters and hypermarkets, but not at home or in church. The heroine sees the crowds on the street: “checking other people’s faces…” (Oates 1). In other words, self-control began to be lost, which happens with the main character (Carpi 276). It is the surrounding world that explains to the reader that Connie is not a stupid or reckless girl, on the contrary, she acts logically and predictably for her time.
Based on the foregoing, it should be noted that the role of the setting and scenery played a key role in understanding the history of Oates. If not carefully read, the story can be misinterpreted, and Connie’s behavior may seem absurd. However, the writer does not explain all the cruelty and vulgarity of the situation directly, he chooses the language of symbols and details. It is with the help of all the details described in detail that the cause of the incident described in the book is formed. The contributions of movie theaters, restaurants, and ranch houses thus prove to be one of the most vital to the entire book.
Carpi, Daniela. (Ed.). Monsters and Monstrosity. From the Canon to the Anti-Canon: Literary and Juridical Subversions. De Gruyter, 2019.
Oates, Joyce C. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, n. d. Web.