Study Questions: Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (Joyce Carol Oates)

Discussion questions for Joyce Carol Oates‘s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”:

  1. oates21.jpgComment on the first sentence of the story: “Her name was Connie.” What could it tell us about the possible themes in the story?
  2. Why is the story dedicated to Bob Dylan? Find out some background information on him and America in the 1960s. Find out which song of Bob Dylan influenced Joyce Carol Oates and discuss the significance of this in the story?
  3. Underline the repeated references to rock music and discuss how they might contribute to our understanding of the story and the youth depicted in the story.
  4. Underline the references to other examples of teenage culture in the story and discuss how they might contribute to our understanding of the story.
  5. Comment on the following excerpt: “The restaurant was shaped like a big bottle, though squatter than a real bottle, an on its cap was a revolving figure of a grinning boy who held a hamburger aloft.” What could the shape of the restaurant signify? What could the revolving figure of a grinning boy signify? Could you establish a connection between the grinning boy and Eddie? What does Eddie’s name signify?
  6. Discuss the character of Arnold Friend. What inspired Joyce Carol Oates to create this character? Think about what his name might suggest. Comment on his car, clothes and language. What does he represent in the story?
  7. Comment on why Arnold speaks “in a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting the words to a song.”
  8. Discuss the character of Connie. What does she represent in the story? Comment on what her name might mean.
  9. Discuss the character of Ellie Oscar. Comment on what his name might mean. Consider the following: Ellie’s appearance: his hair, his sideburns, his clothes, his sunglasses/ Ellie’s radio.
  10. Comment on the significance of the disc jockey’s name (Bobby King). Why does Arnold speak in his voice?
  11. What is the significance of the title of the story?
  12. What does “Where are you going, where have you been” tell us about good and evil?
  13. Greg Johnson, in Understanding Joyce Carol Oates, argues that “Where are you going, where have you been” has explicit feminist concerns. Discuss what these concerns could be.
  14. What does the story tell us about how physical beauty is perceived by the society?
  15. In what ways do you think “Where are you going, where have you been” could be a comment on American society?
  16. What is your interpretation of how Connie’s mother and father are represented?
  17. What could the numbers on Arnold’s car (33, 19, 17) represent?
  18. What could Arnold’s drawing an X in the air symbolize?
  19. What could the kitchen symbolize in the story?
  20. What could the telephone in the kitchen symbolize in the story?
  21. Comment on how Connie and Arnold are depicted in the following excerpt: “And his face was a familiar face, somehow; the jaw and chin and cheeks slightly darkened, because he hadn’t shaved for a day or two, and the nose long and hawk-like, sniffling as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up and it was all a joke.”
  22. Identify how Connie is represented as the story opens, as it progresses and as it ends and discuss to what extent the protagonist is a round character.
  23. What is your understanding of the ending of the story? What happens at the end?
  24. Discuss the reason(s) for the dreamlike atmosphere in the story.
  25. Can you find any parallelism between Oates’s “Where are you going, where have you been?” and the famous fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” . Discuss.

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© Ali Nihat Eken, İstanbul, 2007
Self-portrait credit © Joyce Carol Oates

Relevant link: Understanding Joyce Carol Oates. / Joyce Carol Oates Interviewed by Michale Krasny – Video / Audio Interview with Oates / Joyce Carol Oates on Talking Books BBC World News TV /

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