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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Oates Essay


Introduction

The short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is an interesting literary piece because it has many characters with multiple personalities. Arnold Friend stands out as the strangest character in the narrative because of his flamboyance and controversial relationship with the protagonist, Connie. This paper argues that he is a sociopath. It shows that he shares many similarities with some psychopathic people, such as Charles Schmid and Ted Bundy.

Like these characters, he lures his victims through his charm and enthusiasm (these personality traits attract his victims). However, before he attacks them, he meticulously profiles and understands his targets. He is also careful about the words he tells them and how they perceive him.

When he earns the victim’s trust, his real intentions emerge. This sequence of events shows that Arnold is like other sociopaths because they use the same tricks to kill their victims. To support this argument, this paper shows that, like most sociopaths, Arnold profiles, investigates, and kills his victims. This way, he is a psychopathic criminal.

Victim Profiling

Psychologists have varied definitions about the true definition of a sociopath. However, these villains have uninhibited and antisocial behaviors (that could potentially harm other people). Furthermore, they do not show remorse for their actions and derive pleasure from seeing their victims suffer. Arnold’s personality shows the characteristics of a psychopath. Oates (218) agrees with this fact because she compares his personality with known serial killers, such as Charles Schmid (the “Pied Piper of Tucson”).

In fact, she based his character on the criminal. For example, like Schmid, Arnold’s victims were young and innocent girls. Both men also used similar objects (flashy cars) to lure their victims.

Therefore, it is not a coincidence that they drove a gold-painted car. To choose the “right” victims, both men also hang out in restaurants and other places where girls frequent (Arnold picked up Connie in a drive-in restaurant). These behaviors show that Arnold (like Schmid) profiled his victim well before he made further moves to understand her family background (as shown below).

Investigating Victims

Many serial killers and sociopaths understand their victims. In fact, rarely do they attack people that they do not know. Based on this understanding, some experts say many rape and murder victims often know their adversaries (Rule 3). Arnold knew his victim (Connie) well. He told her details about her life that only a close family member would know. Some of the details he knew were somewhat intimate. For example, he told Connie, “I know who you were with last night, and your best girlfriend’s name is Betty right?” (Oates 287).

Similarly, when she told Arnold that her father would come home soon, he replied that her father is at a barbecue. He also said, “Aunt Tillie’s. Right now, they are — uh — they are drinking, sitting around. There is your sister in a blue dress, huh? And high heels” (Oates 289).

The above statements show that Arnold knew many details about the whereabouts of Connie’s family (almost as if he had been secretly watching them). Furthermore, as most sociopathic people do, he was keenly interested on his victim (sociopathic people often investigate their victims well before they lure them) before he could attack. These issues show that Arnold understood his victims well enough to attack them.

Using a Charming Personality to Lure Victims

Oates (218) portrayed Arnold as a cunning person. He also had a soft and soothing voice, which Connie described as “gentle but loud.” Based on these character traits, Connie believed that Arnold was a good man (and a friend). Moreover, before he threatened to kill her family, Arnold often told her that she was a lovely woman (sentiments that reinforced her trust on him).

He also told her that her family did not deserve her. These comments made him more appealing to his victim because he made her feel valued and loved (unlike her parents who made her feel unwanted). Connie was also attracted to his “bad boy” personality, which made her develop a deep attachment to him. Comparatively, Ted Bundy (an American serial killer) also shared the same characteristics (Rule 3). His victims described him as a handsome and charismatic man.

He used these qualities to win his victims’ trust. Normally, he would charm them in public places (by asking for help or pretending he had an injury) and lure them into isolated places where he raped and killed them. Rule (2), a biographer, said such sociopathic people use their charm to exercise control over their victims. She also says some of these criminals have many personalities that “suit” their intentions (Rule 12). Therefore, they are often charming when they need to lure their victims, and violent, or aggressive, when they attack.

Overall, Arnold’s charm made Connie vulnerable to him because even when she learned of his ulterior motives, she could not walk away. Instead, she stuck by him (Oates 357). Her conviction to stay with him shows that Arnold had some unexplained power over her. Wegs (617) says many sociopathic people have this power and use them to subdue their victims.

Usually, such people look like “ordinary people.” Their camouflage allows them to continue their notoriety (unabated) because they are “invisible” to their victims. Although some people may argue that Connie stuck with Arnold to protect her family from death, the writer provides little evidence to suggest that she did so (we do not know what happened to her family afterwards). Instead, a reader could think that his charm possessed her. The story’s plot explains her behavior through the love she had for him. For example, Oates (293) says that

“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 was not really hers either” (Oates 293)

The above statement shows that Connie perceived Arnold as part of her being. When Oates (293) talked of “something taking over her body,” she referred to “love.” Certainly, Connie’s feelings made her defy logic by staying with Arnold, despite his “devious” ways.

Sociopathic Intentions

Arnold had a complex personality. However, his sociopathic intentions were vivid. For example, from the start, he took a keen interest on his victim, Connie. Oates (293) said, “He [stared] at her and then his lips widened… and there he [was] still watching her.” This statement shows how his body language revealed his desire – to rape her. However, before he did so, he took a lot of time to understand his subject. Although she was, initially, unaware of his intentions, his real motives emerged when he threatened to kill her family.

Here, he also revealed his sexual intentions with her. His obsession with Connie also emerged when he wagged his finger and said, “I am going to get you baby.” These intentions later led to her abduction. Although Oates (293) allows the readers to speculate about what happens after her abduction, one could easily infer the idea that Arnold raped and killed her, as he always wished.

Conclusion

Arnold Friend has a hidden character that masks his sociopathic tendencies. This paper shows that he has many similarities with some sociopaths, such as Charles Schmid and Ted Bundy. Like these characters, he blends well with other people. This paper pays a close attention to his charm and enthusiasm, as the main personality traits that appeal to Connie. He uses these traits to lure his victim. Although he easily blends with ordinary people, Arnold’s mind differs from other people’s minds.

However, like other criminals, he is smart and methodological in how he approaches and treats Connie. For example, he uses fear and control (as most sociopathic people do) to control his victim. Using his charm and enthusiasm, he tricks his victim to believe he is a friendly person. However, this is not the case.

Unlike normal people (who do not perceive human interactions beyond the normal realm of human understanding), Arnold thinks about the contents of his words and every step that emerges from this thought process. Overall, based on his mannerism, thoughts, and relationships, the short story, “Where are you going, Where have you been” affirms Arnold’s sociopathic behaviors.

Works Cited

Oates, J. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been, Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1997. Print.

Rule, A. The Stranger Beside Me, New York, NY: Planet Ann Rule, 2012. Print.

Wegs, J. Don’t You Know Who I Am? The Grotesque in Oates’s Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been, Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1997. Print.

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IvyPanda. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Oates." April 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/where-are-you-going-where-have-you-been-by-joyce-oates/.

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