Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

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"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is a frequently anthologized short story written by Joyce Carol Oates. The story first appeared in the Fall 1966 edition of Epoch magazine. It was inspired by three Tucson, Arizona murders committed by Charles Schmid, which were profiled in Life magazine in an article written by Don Moser on March 4, 1966.[1] Oates said that she dedicated the story to Bob Dylan because she was inspired to write it after listening to his song "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue".[2][3] The story was originally named "Death and the Maiden".[4]


Connie is a pretty, self-conscious 15-year-old girl. She has a strained relationship with her mother, who is jealous of her youth and beauty. Her mother constantly compares her to her sister, who is plain and hard-working. Her father is fairly distant and busy with work.

Connie enjoys going out with friends to the mall and "a drive-in restaurant where the older kids hung out". It is there, while enjoying the company of a boy, that she first sees Arnold Friend, a stranger in a gold convertible covered with cryptic writing. He says "Gonna get you, baby" to her, and she turns away from him.

A while later, her family goes to a Sunday barbeque, leaving Connie home alone. Connie enjoys this time alone, listening to music and feeling happy with simply being alive. A car comes up on the driveway, and Connie comes down from her room to see who it is. It's Arnold Friend, who asks Connie to come with him and his friend on a ride. Connie is initially unsure of him, and declines his offer. He insists that she wants to ride with him. He addresses her by name, and when she asks him how he knows it, he tells her he knows her family won't be home for a while, and that he has been asking around about her to other children.

They exchange more words, with Arnold trying to convince her to come out of her house and ride with him and Connie still unsure and slightly unsettled. It suddenly occurs to Connie to ask how old he is; he deflects the question and tries to skirt around it, telling her he's only 18. However, Connie can see that he is probably closer to 30, perhaps older, and begins to feel scared. His friend might also be older.

Connie tells them to leave, and Arnold insists they won't leave till she comes with them. He tells her that he is her lover, to her shocked terror, and she threatens to call the police. He says if she does he'll come in the house. She goes to lock the door, and he tells her he could easily break it down. Connie tells him her father is coming, and Arnold threatens to hurt her family when they return if she doesn't come out to him.

Eventually, after some back and forth, wherein Arnold is gently, menacingly threatening her, trying to coax her out of the house, Connie is eventually so terrified and exhausted that she comes out. It is heavily insinuated that he takes her to a secondary location to sexually assault and murder her.


Connie: A beautiful girl who loves life. She is unsatisfied with her family, especially her mother, and seeks fulfillment elsewhere. She loves listening to music and is essentially a typical teenager.

Arnold Friend: A mysterious figure who visits Connie while her family is not at home and continuously demands that Connie to get in the car and go on a ride with him. He attempts to be smooth talking, yet his strange, performative and threatening behaviour make Connie uneasy and scared to be with him.

Ellie: Arnold's friend who is very strange and sits in Arnold's car when they go to Connie's house. He listens to music and mostly stays back as Arnold tries to smooth talk his way to get Connie in the car with them.

Connie's Mother: Was once very beautiful when she was younger and is now a frustrating figure in Connie's life. They often argue.

June: The older sister of Connie, who is basically the opposite of her. She does everything that her family asks of her, and is doted on by their mother.[5][6]

Critical review[edit]

Considerable academic analysis has been written about the story, with scholars divided on whether it is intended to be taken literally or as allegory. Several writers focus on the series of numbers written on Friend's car, which he indicates are a code of some sort, but which is never explained:

"Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey," Arnold Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 and raised his eyebrows at her to see what she thought of that, but she didn't think much of it.

Literary scholars have interpreted this series of numbers as different Biblical references (the title appears to have been taken from Judges 19:17[7]),[8][9] as an underlining of Friend's sexual deviancy,[10] or as a reference to the ages of Friend and his victims.[8]

The narrative has also been viewed as an allegory for initiation into sexual adulthood,[11] an encounter with the devil, a critique of modern youth's obsession with sexual themes in popular music,[12] or as a dream sequence.[13]


The story was loosely adapted into the 1985 film Smooth Talk, starring Laura Dern and Treat Williams.[14] Oates wrote an essay about the adaptation, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" and Smooth Talk: Short Story Into Film, in 1986.[15]

The story has also been cited as an inspiration for Rose McGowan's 2014 short film Dawn as well as The Blood Brothers' 2003 song "The Salesman, Denver Max".[16][17][18][19]


  1. ^ Moser, Don; Cohen, Richard M. (November 1967). The Pied Piper of Tucson by Don & Jerry Cohen Moser | Kirkus Reviews. ISBN 978-0453001243.
  2. ^ Oates, J.C. & Showalter, E. (1994). "Introduction". Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been. Rutgers University Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-8135-2135-1.
  3. ^ Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been and Bob Dylan, 2011-01-11, retrieved 2018-04-24
  4. ^ Oates, Joyce Carol (2016-10-10). ""Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" and Smooth Talk: Short Story Into Film". Celestial Timepiece. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  5. ^ Hurley, D F (Summer 1991). "Impure Realism: Joyce Carol Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'". Studies in Short Fiction. 28 (3): 371. ProQuest 1297942472.
  6. ^ Hurley, C Harold (Winter 1987). "Cracking the Secret Code in Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'". Studies in Short Fiction. 24 (1): 62. ProQuest 1297940520.
  7. ^ https://interminablerambling.com/2017/04/20/judges-19-and-arnold-friends-enigmatic-code/
  8. ^ a b Pinewski, David (Spring 1991). "Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'". Explicator. 49 (3): 195–196. doi:10.1080/00144940.1991.11484066.
  9. ^ Robson, Mark (Summer 1982). "Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'". The Explicator. 40 (4): 59–60. doi:10.1080/00144940.1982.11483609.
  10. ^ Hurley, C. Harold (Winter 1987). "Cracking the Secret Code in Oats's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been'". Studies in Short Fiction. 24 (1): 62–66.
  11. ^ Urbanski, Marie Mitchell Olesen (1978). "Existential Allegory: Joyce Carol Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'". Studies in Short Fiction. 15: 200–203.
  12. ^ Petry, Alice Hall (Spring 1988). "Who Is Ellie? Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'". Studies in Short Fiction. 25 (2): 155–157.
  13. ^ Rubin, Larry (Summer 1984). "Oates's 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'". Explicator. 42 (4): 57–59. doi:10.1080/00144940.1984.11483813.
  14. ^ Dickinson, P. (July 2008). "Riding in Cars with Boys: Reconsidering 'Smooth Talk'". Literature Film Quarterly. 36 (3): 202–214.
  15. ^ Oates, Joyce Carol (2016-10-10). ""Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" and Smooth Talk: Short Story Into Film". Celestial Timepiece. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  16. ^ Selvin, Rachel. "A Closer Look At Rose McGowan's "Dawn"". www.refinery29.com. Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  17. ^ Blog, 1More Film (2014-10-11). "Rose McGowan's Dawn and the Problem of Short Films". 1More Film Blog. Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  18. ^ "Watch: Rose McGowan's Acclaimed Short, Dawn". ComingSoon.net. 2015-06-22. Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  19. ^ Teutsch, Matthew (2017-04-18). "The Blood Brothers' "The Salesman, Denver Max" and Joyce Carol Oates". Interminable Rambling. Retrieved 2019-03-26.

External links[edit]

  • Complete text on Celestial Timepiece, an authorized Joyce Carol Oates Home Page