Ambiguous Identity

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JoyceCarol Oates’ short story, WhereAre You Going, Where Have been,presents the main character, Connie, as a fifteen-year-old girl whois in the midst of teenage rebellion (Hawkins-Dady539).The story begins by portraying Connie as a selfish and disobedientteen who does not consider the consequences of her actions and theirimpacts on other people (Hischak266).Besides, Connie neglects her role as daughter and a sibling becauseshe constantly argues with her mother and makes fun of her oldersister, Jane (McManus).Instead, she cultivates a sexual personality to attract boys at alocal restaurant. Connie appears superficial as she only focuses onsmall problems associated with youth such as vanity and obsessionwith men (Ugur36).Consequently, the character has a two-dimensional personality that isconsumed by her vain searches and concerns about childhood andmaturity.

Theauthor indicates that everything about Connie has two sides to it,and as the plot thickens, so does her character. Connie’s characteris torn between childhood and adulthood. Thus, her movements in thehouse reflect how she rebounds uncontrollably between fantasies(Beckenbauer12).However, Connie’s identities are incompatible as one is based onher imagination while the truth defines the other. The authorindicates that when Connie thinks about boys they all dissolve into avague, harmless stereotype (Oates353). Hence, Connie has a passionate personality although she lacksemotional maturity.

Conniehas one foot into maturity where she wants to flirt with boys andhave the privileges of an adult. She has developed a distinct styleof walking, dressing, and laughing to make her sexuality appealing.However, this identity is temporary because Connie uses it when sheis away from home (Oates348).On the other hand, she wants the benefits of being young, which isfacilitated by the atmosphere at home. For instance, when Connie isscared, she acts like a child and calls for her mother’s help.Besides, she attempts to appear calm despite the constant argumentswith her parents. Connie’s mother is always nagging her to changeand become more like Jane (Ugur37).Therefore, Connie is living under Jane’s shadow since she cannotsatisfy her mother’s expectations (McManus).

Nonetheless,Connie’s flirtatious personality is putting her in danger, but sheis too young and naive to realize it (McManus).Connie shows low self-esteem due to the insecurities she illustratesabout her self-worth and fear of intimacy. The character does nothave any genuine connections with her girlfriends as she keeps anemotional distance from them. Even so, she seems to take fullresponsibility for her fate due to the broken relationships with herfamily (Oates348).Nevertheless, Connie does not care about the feelings of othercharacters, especially the young men who are interested in her. Sheconsiders herself a skilled tease who can handle any situation (Oates350).The author shows that Connie feels confident when Arnold Friend findsher at home. As the story progresses, Connie realizes that she is notas confident as she thought because she found herself powerless atthe hands of Arnold Friend(Kirszner andMandell534).

Thenagain, she barely recognizes reality, which makes it hard tounderstand different forms of manipulation (Beckenbauer14).During her teenage years, Connie is neither adult nor a child. Shetries to find her identity by pushing the boundaries set by herparents. On the other hand, she seeks validation of her beauty fromthe boys at the restaurant (Ugur36).Hence, Connie’s ambiguous identity makes it easy for an older man,Arnold, to manipulate her. When Arnold arrives at her home, he forcesConnie to confront both sides of her personality (McManus).Thus, she is terrified when Arnold gives her explicit sexualattention, which shows that does not know what adulthood entails(KirsznerandMandell 532).

Themain character desperately wants the affection of older men becauseshe believes that it will make her appear more mature (Oates 353).Although Connie desires freedom, she portrays the behavior of atypical teenager searching for an identity (Ugur38).Connie identifies her value as a person through physicalattractiveness, which makes her belittle Jane and quarrel with hermother. She gains a false sense of security when men are affectionatetowards her since she barely gets love from her parents (McManus).Nevertheless, her encounter with Arnold Friend is intense, but Oatesuses these events to show how an unstable identity can make ateenager, especially a girl, vulnerable to exploitation (Hawkins-Dady540).Initially, Connie assumes that because Arnold is like other boys shehas handled so skillfully in the past thus, she has nothing to fearfrom him. However, Connie is still young, and she cannot handlechallenging situations (Ugur36).Therefore, even if she denies it, Connie needs the guidance of herparents.

Lastly,the character can be perceived as a stereotype of young womenin the modern society. She is free-spirited as illustrated by herideas of having a good time. Connie is capable of alternating herselfless and selfishness personalities depending on her surroundings.However, Connie’s persona is unfamiliar with the logic that isacquired from having a strong, centered identity. Furthermore, theambiguous character introduces a mindset that makes her a suitablevictim for Arnold Friend’s manipulations. Therefore, at the end ofthe story, the reader learns that in the presence of a villain,Connie’s flirtatious personality is a fatal trait.


Hawkins-Dady,Mark. Reader’sguide to literature in English.Chicago: Routledge, 2012. Internet Resource.

Hischak,Thomas S. AmericanLiterature on Stage and Screen: 525 Works and Their Adaptations.Jefferson: McFarland &amp Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012. InternetResource.

Kirszner,Laurie G. and Stephen R. Mandell.CompactLiterature Reading Writing Mla 2016 Update.S. l.: Cengage Learning Custom, 2016. Print.

McManus,Dermot. &quotWhere Are You Going, Where Have You Been – JoyceCarol Oates.&quot TheSitting Bee,22 Jul. 2014. Web. 12 October 2016.

Oates,Joyce Carol. “WhereAre You Going, Where Have You Been?”Edited by Elaine Showalter,&nbspNew Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1994.Print.

Ugur,Neslihan G. Self-Destructive Forces in Oates’ Women. Studiesin literature and language,vol.&nbsp4, no. 3, 2012, pp. 35-39.

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