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A Teenage Girl’s Struggle for Independence in Joyce Oates’ Short Story Essay


In the short story Where are You Going, Where Have You Been? Joyce Oates explores the experiences of a teenage girl named Connie who is very anxious to become a self-sufficient individual who does not have to obey the authority of other people. This is the main motive that drives the protagonist.

This story highlights the attempts of a person to gain independence from other people, especially her parents. With the help of direct and indirect characterization, the writer shows that adolescent people, who are driven by this need for self-sufficiency, can often act irrationally; moreover, they do not want to take a critical look at their actions or shortcomings. This is the main thesis which should be discussed in this paper. It is important for understanding the behavior of the protagonist.

It should be mentioned that characterization is a way in which the author describes the qualities, values, and needs of a protagonist. In most cases, Joyce Oates wants readers to reach their own conclusions about Connie. She does not want to assess Connie’s actions from an ethical viewpoint. At first, the author shows that the feels hostility toward her older sister who is often praised by her mother (Oates 26). However, the main character does not explain the underlying causes of this enmity.

To a great extent, her attitude can be attributed to the fact that June is quite content with living in the parents’ house. In contrast, this idea is intolerable to the protagonist who does not want to recognize the authority of her mother. Moreover, June diligently does household chores, but Connie cannot accept her as a sister as a role model. This is one of the main arguments that can be put forward. However, Connie never tells that why she dislikes June. This is one of the aspects that can be distinguished.

Sometimes, her need for self-sufficiency transforms into bitter hatred for her mother. Joyce Oates describes her experiences in the following way, “Connie wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over” (Oates 26). The protagonist explains this attitude by the fact her mother continuously criticizes her behavior. Nevertheless, it never occurs to Connie that she may do something in a wrong way.

By looking at Connie’s attitudes, Oates is able to show the irrationality of this person who does not try to justify her antagonism against her mother and sister who care about Connie’s wellbeing. So, the use of indirect characterization is helpful for examining the decisions of the main character and her worldview. This technique is both informative and thought-provoking.

Moreover, the author shows that Connie attempts to achieve independence by emphasizing her physical attractiveness and sexuality. This strategy can enable her to gain the sense over other people. Joyce Oates mentions that the main character wears the same clothes in different ways while she is at home and when she is with her friends. In particular, the authors says that “she wore a pull-over jersey blouse that looked one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home” (Oates 270).

The readers can see that Connie wants to become attractive to men, who are much older than she is. This is why she starts an affair with Arnold Friend about whom she knows virtually nothing (Oates 33).

However, she does not understand that Arnold can simply make use of her naivety. Apart from that, Joyce Oates points out that Connie feels very vulnerable outside her house (Oates 26). To some degree, this feeling indicates at her feeling of insecurity or even inferiority. This feeling is typical of many adolescents. This is one of the details that should not be overlooked.

One can say that Connie is a typical teenage girl who thinks that she is old enough to take independent decisions. Yet, her behavior leads to adverse circumstances. In particular, Arnold Friend threatens Connie and probably even rapes her (Oates 45). This is one of the possible outcomes that should be considered.

She understands that Arnold Friend can be dangerous. So, the readers cannot tell what exactly will happen to Connie in the future. However, the short story illustrates that Connie is not able to identify the possible consequences of his/her decisions. This is one of the issues that can be singled out.

On the whole, these examples show that characterization is a helpful tool for describing the values of an individual. Joyce Oates represents the experiences of many teenagers, especially their quest for independence. The main problem is that many of their decisions and attitudes can be irrational.

The writer skillfully uses direct and indirect characterization to illustrate the inner world of the main character. Joyce Oates shows how a person’s need for autonomy can lead to irrational decisions and attitudes, especially during adolescence. This is the main point that can be made.

Works Cited

Oates, Joyce. Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994. Print.

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"A Teenage Girl’s Struggle for Independence in Joyce Oates’ Short Story." IvyPanda, 31 Jan. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/a-teenage-girls-struggle-for-independence-in-joyce-oates-short-story/.

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IvyPanda. "A Teenage Girl’s Struggle for Independence in Joyce Oates’ Short Story." January 31, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-teenage-girls-struggle-for-independence-in-joyce-oates-short-story/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "A Teenage Girl’s Struggle for Independence in Joyce Oates’ Short Story." January 31, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-teenage-girls-struggle-for-independence-in-joyce-oates-short-story/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'A Teenage Girl’s Struggle for Independence in Joyce Oates’ Short Story'. 31 January.

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