Connie, the main character in Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been” is a fifteen-year-old girl, just realizing her beauty. It is summer vacation, and she is spending her time either with boys or daydreaming about them. Connie is a typical teenage girl with a desperate need for independence. She does not get along with her mother, and her father is seldom around. He works a great deal of the time, and when he comes home, he likes to eat and go to bed. Connie has a girlfriend who she enjoys going to the mall with. While at the mall, the girls like to meet boys and watch movies. It is a place where the girls can express themselves in a way different from the ways in which they portray themselves at home. The story’s climax begins the day after one of Connie’s trips to the mall. Her family has gone to a barbecue across town, and she is alone in the house. The events of the story lead up to a terrifying confrontation and abduction of Connie by one of the ‘boys’ she had met the night before. She had never spoken with the boy before, but she did enjoy the ways he had looked at her. In reading “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” readers may question Connie’s judgment at times and ask whether or not her actions contribute to the troubles Connie is forced to endure at the end of the story.
Connie can be labeled as an average teenage girl: vulnerable, carefree, desirous, and curious. She has just discovered the power of her own beauty, but hasn’t yet realized that power, in any form, must be controlled. Connie has long, dark blond hair. She is petite and seems confident in her looks, yet “everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home” (par. 5). Connie loves to have boys look at her. To Connie, beauty is everything. Even within her own household, Connie feels that her mother, who she is in constant conflict with, favors Connie over her sister June “because she was prettier” (par. 11). Connie is fixated on her beauty and the role beauty plays in life. The first thing she thinks about when the two boys that she has never seen before pull up her driveway is how she looks. Some may say that because of the lack of control Connie possesses over her beauty, Arnold Friend, her eventual abductor, is attracted to her. He sees her naivety and sets forth to capture it.
Like many teenagers, music plays a large role in Connie’s life. She drifts off into daydreams and desires when listening to music. It plays in her head, even when there is no music around. She dreams of boys and love, “sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs” (par. 12). When Arnold and his friend Ellie first pull up into Connie’s driveway, the music on the radio has an effect.