Oates’ short story ‘Where are you going? Where have you been?’ is a classical reflection of the social contexts within which the world exists. Interpersonal relationships and gender socialization all purpose to create a general stereotype that the society expects everyone to live by. In some instances, such stereotypes may not augur well with personal attributes and may result in identity confusions and emotional challenges. Oates’ story provides a perfect exemplification of these confusions, particularly among youths. Given the different themes presented in the story, it can deduced that the story is about the identity crisis that adolescents go through and how social constructs help to shape their perception of self and others. Consideration of oneself as either the in-group or out-group in this essence would be linked to perceptions one has in relation to social expectations. Connie’s experiences from the lens of a sexualized social context and a background of adolescence gives a good description of the author’s intentions in narrating the story.
Adolescent Confusion in a Sexualized Society
The society within which Connie lives in sexualized in its consideration of different genders and their distinctive roles in the social context. The society demands exceptional moral uprightness of women, hence the requirement that Connie stays home or in school. Connie, like her elder sister, is not allowed to go out to the movies or with boys, on the argument that she may be negatively influenced into bad behavior (Oates 1). Connie’s parents, like most other parents in the city, also have the preconception that young girls who frequently go out are of ill morals. Similarly, Connie’s elder sister exemplifies the perfect moral inclination that is expected of girls her age and does not go out either with men or with her friends. Unlike Connie, she also holds the belief that young girls cannot go out unless they are of ill morals. These social expectations place a lot of pressure on people such as Connie who would want more from their lives, and hence her decision to be going out even without her mother’s consent.
Connie’s attitude to the social gender stereotypes drive her to develop ambiguous personalities in that the childlike and innocent character she displays at home is the exact opposite of the character she exposes when she is out of her home on the pretext of visiting her friends (Oates 2). This double personality is a clear indication of the confusion to which the young woman subjects herself by her violation of societal norms. Comparisons that the parents make between their children also create the perception that Connie’s sister is better than her in several aspects. The contempt she feels for her sister and the feelings of alienation from the family, all contribute to the final decision to listen to music and wash her hair as the family goes for a barbecue. It would be presumable that the appearance of the seemingly young man with a nice car would make Connie willing to ride out regardless of the man’s age (Oates 5). However, Oates shows a potentially bleak future, full of uncertainty and ambiguity as to whether it is attractive or repulsive to Connie.
This story has a more psychological than emotional impact on the readers. Several questions cross one’s mind when reading it and the ambiguity in the ending only reinforces that confusion. What happens to adolescents who live home in the hope that whatever attracts them out there is worth more to them than the restrictions and parental guidance of home? The story outlines the lives of many youths who get lost in a sea of drug abuse, sexual immorality and general loss of value as a result of their desire to get away from the social norms and the parental restrictions. Most of the things that attract the adolescents out there have no long term value and can be considered a façade, as they most probably result in anger, loss of value and depression at the minimum. Several youths even end up committing suicide following depression that arises from feelings of rejection and segregation. Oates’ story therefore provides a rhetorical perspective on the lives of youths and calls for an in-depth evaluation of the role of parenting in guiding youths through social identity crises and social norms.
The story aligns well with Bob Dylan’s song ‘It’s all over now, Baby Blue,’ based on the content of the song. Like the story, the song tells the story of a youth who intends to desert a place of existing comfort for another. The song also describes the departure of a young person to unknown ends. The song writer encourages the departing youth to take all they need and to be careful of what the future holds (Davis). The theme is similar to that in Oates’ story, particularly on the encouragement to forget the dead. In Oates’ story, Connie seems to also have a feeling that she might never see the family again (they may be dead to her), yet the future is filled with a lot of ambiguity. The decision to leave the story in suspense could be founded on the uncertainty of adolescent decisions, particularly given their often negative outcomes relative to expectations.
Davis, Jefferson. “Bob Dylan – it’s all over now, baby blue.” YouTube, 2 August 2018. www.youtube.com/watch?v=smfSOPB_LwY. Accessed 27 November 2018.
Oates, Joyce Carol. ‘Where are you going? Where have you been?’ 1966. www.cusd200.org/cms/lib/IL01001538/Centricity/Domain/361/oates_going.pdf. Accessed 27 November 2018.