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Serial Killer Imagery: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 17th, 2022

It is always painful to read about children’s death, especially if the child is cruelly slaughtered; in fact, our society still views the people who offend minors as heartless maniacs abusing the most sacred and the most obscure value, the purity of childhood. Such stories barely leave anyone indifferent, and author Joyce Carol Oates created her short story “Where are you going? Where have you been?” affected by the piece of news from Life Magazine, narrating about a teenage girl, seduced and murdered by a strange man. The short story was first issued in 1966 in a journal and then was incorporated into The Wheel of Love, a collection of Oates’s narratives. Beyond the prominent, sometimes thrilling psychologism, the story also reveals the historical events associated with the murders of the 1960s committed by the so-called Pied Piper of Tucson. The present paper argues that whereas Arnold Friend is portrayed by Oates as a “superhuman” copy of Carl Schmid, the murderer, and the situation with Connie is partially sketched from the case of Alleen Rowe, Connie is actually a collective image of the three young girls Schmid abducted, molested and killed.

First of all, it is important to note that the prototype of Arnold Friend in the short story is named Charles Schmid, the Pied Piper of Tucson. As Ramsland writes, “Dubbed “The Pied Piper of Tucson” for his ability to get girls to fall for him, he stood five feet, four inches tall, but added three more inches by padding his stack-heeled cowboy boots with rags and tin cans. He also dyed his reddish-brown hair black and applied a fake mole to his left cheek – a “beauty” mark” (Ramsland, 2008, par.3). Nevertheless, Schmid was a school champion in gymnastics until he was suspended from the educational institution for truancy and pathological lying. He originated from a wealthy family (Pearlman, 1989, p. 111; Schmid and Schmid, 2005, p. 58) and therefore surfed smoothly through life, turning it into a never-ending entertainment. The similarities between the reports about Charles Schmid and Arnold Friend are too clear-cut to be accidental. In particular, Friend’s victim, Connie, very quickly notices that the man has short stature (Oates, 2008, par.12). However, the girl also considers him physical and fit as well, as he had a “belt that pulled his waist in and showed how lean he was, and a white pull-over shirt that was a little soiled and showed the hard, small muscles of his arms and shoulders. He looked as if he probably did hard work lifting and carrying things. Even his neck looked muscular” (Oates, 2008, par.12). Oates’s description of the villain’s face was also taken from the photographs, which accompanied articles in national newspapers and magazines (Cologne-Brookes, 2005, p. 76; Scott, 2007, p.49). In particular, similarly to Schmid, Arnold Fiend had unshaved cheeks and glittering dark eyes. More specifically, the character also wears makeup; for instance, his eyelashes are unnaturally dark “as if painted with a black tarlike material” and, as Connie assumes, Friend might be wearing a wig (Oates, 2008, par.15). Friend’s face also seems to Connie like a mask, probably because of the generous layer of makeup the young man put on.

In terms of behavior, Friend also employs the patterns Schmid was believed to use. For instance, due to his Napoleonic complex, Schmid tended to speak excessively loudly, as if he was addressing a crowd of people, and Oates also includes this manner into the portrait of her short story’s character. Friend’s sexual directness and sincerity appear to be parallel to the “real life” Piper’s habit of talking about “100 ways to make love”, for which women ostensibly paid him money (Ramsland, 2008, par.5). In addition, both Schmid and Fiend are extremely importunate: according to the newspaper chronicles, the Pied Piper used to remind about himself, again and again, persecuting the objects of his attention, whereas Friend threatens to break into Connie’s home unless she goes out with him and spends hours standing under her window and convincing her.

Referring to the above-outlined points of likeness between the serial killer and the villain of the narrative, Cologne-Brookes and Daly state that Arnold Friend was copied from Schmid (Cologne-Brookes, 2005, p.73; Daly, 1998, p. 42), thus challenging the initial thesis of the paper. At the same time, Quirk calls Friend “superhuman” (Quirk, 2001, p.194), probably referring to his supernatural abilities; this assumption is closer to the thesis and can be substantiated by the fact the Friend gradually hypnotizes Connie. At the beginning the protagonist is not attracted to the young man at all and treats him with a slight disregard and suspicion, attributed to all gorgeous and self-confident teenage girls: “She couldn’t decide if she liked him or if he was just a jerk, and so she dawdled in the doorway and wouldn’t come down or go back inside.” (Oates, 2008, par. 24). However, towards the end of the short story, Friend manages to suggest her that he is really able to kill her family and destroy her home, so that the girl gets paralyzed by fear and surrenders. Friend’s communication and persuasion skills are hyperbolized in the short story and therefore seem “supernatural” or “magical”: “If my father comes and sees you ‘”He ain’t coming. He’s at barbecue.” How do you know that?” Aunt Tillie’s. Right now they’re uh- they’re drinking. Sitting around,” he said vaguely, squinting as if he were staring all the way to town and over to Aunt Tillie’s back yard” (Oates, 2008, par. 31). Schmid, his prototype, failed to develop such a strong power over others (Scott, 2007, p. 57), so this “supernatural” component can be viewed as pure creative imagination. As one can assume, the evidence suggests that Schmid’s personality was to a great extent “embellished” by Oates’s fantasy, and the assumption about the absolute resemblance between the true villain and the fictional murderer is easily refutable.

In the year 1964, Schmid lured Alleen Rowe, age 15, from her home, took her for a walk to the desert beach, raped and murdered her. The story about Connie is quite similar, given that she is also persuaded to leave her “shell”; in addition, similarly to Oates’s protagonist, the real victim also stayed at home alone and washed her hair before her assailants arrived. The official account of the crime also suggests that Schmid was accompanied by his girlfriend and male pal, who befriended Alleen long before and were used as a “safety guarantee” (Ramsland, 2008, par.6; Scott, 2007, p. 18). As one remembers, in order to distract Connie from the inherent danger of Arnold Friend, she introduces Ellie, the minor character, who, however, appears to be the protagonist’s acquaintance. Critic Quirk believes that the scenarios are similar, but, most importantly, Oates stresses the events that took place before the crime, instead of focusing on the murder itself, as contemporary newspapers did (Quirk, 2001, p.195). This hypothesis greatly coincides with the thesis; moreover, the critic’s arguments, to a great extent, support it.

Quirk observes that articles, which appeared after the murderer was identified, “portrayed the real criminal act as very nearly motiveless and unaccountable. In fact, Life, Time, and Newsweek all preferred to lay the blame on the generation of indulgent, cruising teenagers and their unmindful parents” (Quirk, 2001, p.195). Ramsland also suggests that Schmid’s experiments took him too far from the boundaries of common sense, so he really sought to kill someone, preferably a girl, in order to empirically comprehend the process of destroying a human life (Ramsland, 2008, par.8). Consequently, one can conclude that there were no obvious or objective motives in the 1964 murder, whereas the “pre-crime” episode with Connie suggests that the reason at least for abducting the girl is uncontrolled lust as displayed by Arnold Friend since his harassing sexual hints are elucidated and emphasized (Oates, 2008, par. 14, 28, 36). In addition, by describing exceptionally the events, which preceded the manslaughter, Oates tries to justify the allegedly lost and careless generation. She actually localized the evil of the story in the single character, Arnold Friend, who has a satanic influence on people and is able to subjugate everyone. Connie, in contrast, is portrayed as a naïve teenager with innocent interests: “Sometimes they did go shopping or to a movie, but sometimes they went across the highway, ducking fast across the busy road, to a drive-in restaurant where older kids hung out” (Oates, 2008, par.5). Furthermore, Connie is referred to as smarter and more compliant with social norms than amoral Pettinger girl, so the author implicitly infers that the protagonist still lives in a world of childish fantasies. Friend, as opposed to Connie, is shown as a “mature” adult villain, who pretends to be a teenager, but appears to be much more guileful and crafty. Responding to the accusations placed by the newspapers on the young generation, Oates weaves the plot that to a certain degree justifies allegedly “thoughtless” girls killed by Schmid. In her short story, the author shows her protagonist in the perceived cul-de-sac, which results from Friend’s promise to hurt Connie’s nearest and dearest people if she refuses to join him in his journey.

Finally, in her literary work, Oates seems to combine Piper’s three victims into one. The first victim of Charles Schmid, Alleen, was a fifteen-year-old genius who dreamed about an oceanographer’s career and was a brilliant learner. 17-year-old Gretchen Fitz was a blonde beauty, expelled from school for low attendance and even suspected of several minor crimes. Her younger sister, Wendy, age 13, got along with Gretchen quite well but did not seek to realize herself in antisocial activities, being motivated to do well at school and in the community (Ramsland, 2008, par.7; Scott, 2007, p. 20). Pearlman assumes that Alleen is actually Connie’s prototype due to physical similarities and the fact that both girls appeared to be sensitive to external influence (Pearlman, 1989, p. 89). The thesis is not consistent with this argument, given that deeper research of this aspect, conducted by Daly, suggests that the author herself underlines the fact that she attempted to embody several personalities in her protagonist (Daly, 1998, p. 45). In particular, when looking closer at Connie, it is possible to notice the divergence in behavioral patterns the girl uses in various social dimensions: “Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike and bobbling, or languid enough to make anyone think she heard music in her head […]” (Oates, 2008, par.6).

Furthermore, although Connie greatly resembles Alleen given her age, appearance, and hair color, the latter actually does not belong to any of the youth subcultures. Alleen Rowe is described as a bookish, education-oriented girl whose only close friend, Mary French, happened to be Schmid’s girlfriend (Ramsland, 2008, par.7). In addition, Alleen was much more cautious than Conny, so Schmid dedicated months to winning the girl’s trust and establishing contact with her. Connie, however, is much more sociable and inquisitive in attending to new people. Moreover, owing to her inherent empathy and the affiliation to the same subculture, Connie quite soon allows Friend to create a psychological connection between them: “She sat on the edge of her bed, and listened for an hour and a half to a program called XYZ Sunday Jamboree, record after record of hard, fast, shrieking songs she sang along with […]” (Oates, 2008, p.11). Similar to the other representatives of the youth subculture, Connie rejects the friendship of her older relatives and considers school and family gatherings, intrinsically associated with adult values, boring and unworthy. In this sense, she is more similar to Gretchen, whose adherence to the subculture even enabled her romantic relationship with Schmid (Ramsland, 2008, par.7). Finally, Connie resembles 13-year-old Wendy, an infantile creature that still needed parental care and protection and unconsciously accepted her parents’ moral values. In addition, Connie appears to be much more obedient and dependent, whereas Gretchen seemed to not recognize adults’ authority and, as a result, gradually lost her adherence to the institutions of social control like school and police. Thus, Connie can be viewed as a threefold character that includes the traits of all girls, tortured by Schmid.

As the present paper has proven, the historical facts about the deeds of the serial killer are creatively “enriched” by Oates’s imagination, which, however, cannot be viewed as an end in itself but rather as a means of showing the vulnerability and defenselessness of the younger generation and justifying the girls, depicted in newspaper articles in a biased way.

Works cited

Cologne-Brookes, G. Dark Eyes on America: The Novels of Joyce Carol Oates. LSU Press, 2005.

Daly, B. Authoring a Life: A Woman’s Survival in and Through Literary Studies. SUNY Press, 1998.

Pearlman, M. American Women Writing Fiction: Memory, Identity, Family, Space. University Press of Kentucky, 1989.

Quirk, T. Nothing Abstract: Investigations in the American Literary Imagination. University of Missouri Press, 2001.

Ramsland, K. The Pied Piper. 2008. Web.

Schmid, D. and Schmid, D.F. Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture. University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Scott, G. American Murder. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.

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