Individual identity is a complex subject. Though many of us strive for self-awareness, the journey to better know one’s self is fraught with the challenges of a perilous world, the impressions made upon us by others and the indefinable area which rests between body and mind. Such are the conflicts at the center of Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have Been? ” The short story portrays a girl experiencing a point of inflection in her life which yields unexpected revelations of self and of identity.Oates’ story, concerning the coming of sexual awareness for the beautiful and vain young Connie declares itself immediately as a girl’s intimations regarding her own sense of identity.
Connie is described as a clearly willful but conflicted girl, remarkably developed in her willingness to portray provocatively both herself and others. “Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home. (Oates, 2) Suggesting both a discontent for the context containing her life and a proclivity to fabricate identities according to her audience, Oates constructs a girl who feels an incongruity between herself and her world.Though it is not immediately apparent, Oates is introducing Connie just “as she begins the perilous inward journey towards maturity. This journey is an essential part of the adolescent's search for personal identity. Schultz et al, 1) There is evidence in her characterization of herself as somehow fitting in poorly with her family, with her friends and under the restrictive blandness of her life.
She fantasizes frequently, and lustfully, and appears to be generally defiant of either facing the world that is dominated by her disapproving mother and the mild materialism around her, or facing her true desires with any mode of action. In this regard, Connie is a character constructed on the need for revelation. Here, it is Friend who serves as the inflection point upon Connie’s self-awareness.The uncertainty of Connie’s flowering womanhood is countered by Arnold Friend’s consciously developed masculinity and self-assuredness.
So much so does the author elucidate this distinction as to endow Friend with a clear sense of Connie’s identity. Upon only their first time speaking, in the driveway of her house, he tells her menacingly, “‘I know your name and all about you, lots of things,’” (Oates, 7) After reciting the information that he had accumulated about her, he proceeded to play upon the desire and restlessness which he observed in her to cajole Connie into his car.The character’s shameless declaration of his familiarity with Connie brings to the forefront of the story’s climax the question of identity. In spite of her frequent proclamations of self and an evident air of confidence in her narration, Connie is nonetheless given over to frequent meditations over her physical appearance, her relationships with others and a relative disinterest in reality.
These are all qualities though which Arthur Friend appears to recognize in her more acutely than she does.There is a feeling of sex-role caricatures playing off of one another here, with Friend’s older and more assured masculine figure manipulating the common construct present in adolescent women “who struggle against limitations of their impoverished origins and who awaken to intellectual, or artistic, or sexual potentialities within themselves. ” (Creighton, 1) The awakening in Connie manifests itself as a feeling of disembodiment, rendered by the terrifying newness of her perspective.As Connie went to Arthur, “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. ” (Oates, 12) In the resolution of Oates’ story, the protagonist is forced to face an identity that she did not fully know. Friend’s assumed familiarity had at first threatened her and, ultimately, revealed her.