Where are you going and where have you been

Published 04 May 2017

“Promise was not to come in unless you touch that phone, and I’ll keep that promise”

The story ‘Where are you going and where have you been’ by Joyce Carol Oates depicts how an innocent girl surrenders herself to the pressure of a situation and becomes a victim to Arnold Friend a totally unknown lover to her. The character of Arnold Friend stands for unscrupulous passion which leads to violence when it is threatened. The incident that takes place at her home in the absence of her parents and other family members turns her life totally and throws her into the hands of a man who seems to be a potential villain. His statement “Promise was not to come in unless you touch that phone, and I’ll keep that promise” holds the key for his character and to the entire story. Arnold is not what he appears to be and his promises are not what they seem to be.

Arnold Friend is clever in designing his plot to attract the girl he wants to have. He enters the place in an open jalopy painted in gold color with some slogans and signs on it. It looks trendy creating strong images about the man in the driver’s seat. He finds a suitable time when Connie will be left alone. He plans his visit in such a way that there will be no other person at home except the girl, Connie he wants to take with him. He is an adept in his skills of catching young girls by throwing a net of attractions that tempt the teenage girls.

He uses all his skills of enticing and convincing Connie to come out with him. Initially he makes indirect suggestions, becomes bold and expresses his wish directly. When she seems adamant and wants to complain to the police against his advancements, he threatens her saying that ‘promise was not to come in unless you touch the phone, and I’ll keep that promise’. His promise is he will not enter her house and take her away forcibly. But he says he will keep that promise as long as she will not go to the phone and call police. His intentions are very clear from this statement that he will not respect his word when he is threatened. It throws light on his character and brings out the darker motives that lie beyond his seemingly gentle appearance.

The question is whether his love is sincere or is he just mocking his love. It is obvious that his love is not sincere from many of his words. It was a physical need for him and he wants to make use of this girl to satisfy his passion. He tells her about how happy it will be to embrace him and be with him. He says, “I always keep my word. I’ll tell you how it is; I’m always nice at first, the first time. I’ll hold you so tight you won’t think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you’ll know you can’t. And I’ll come inside you where it’s all secret and you’ll give in to me and you’ll love me.” These words horrify Connie and she is scared beyond her control. She observes her body shaking and her finger quivering with fear. She wants to ring the phone and call the police for her rescue. She finds herself in a helpless condition and realizes that it is beyond her control.

When she walks towards the phone she stumbles on it and in a moment she finds herself losing control over her. She observes herself submitting to the wish of Arnold and her body coming out of her house in the sunlight. She notices she is walking towards Arnold who is standing beside the door screen opening his arms with a gesture of inviting her. Has Connie come out intentionally or is she forced to come out because of the situation there? It is obvious that she is suspicious of him and is much frightened by his words and behavior. She goes out in trance like condition where Arnold Friend has totally controlled her feelings and emotions. Truly, Arnold is not what he appears to be. He tries to impress the girl with all his skills of seducing her but in vain. He did not keep his promise. He broke his promise cleverly putting Connie under tremendous psychological stress.

His physical appearance also does not seem real. He appears like a forty year old boy to Connie. When he removes his glasses he looks he is a man of thirty years. He conceals his true feelings by wearing dark glasses. His hair appears like a wig to Connie. There is something that is seriously lacking in him. Even when he walks it is straight. He finds it difficult to walk naturally and Connie suspects that his shoes must have made him look taller.

He disguises himself like the Satan in the story of Adam and Eve. He comes in a gold color open jalopy to attract Connie like Satan taking the form of a golden serpent talking with a human voice. Arnold’s talk also is not natural. There is some forced pretension in his speech. As Connie observes ‘he spoke in a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting the words to a song’. Even in his physical appearance and his way of walking and talking something is seriously missing. It creates suspicion about his nature and personality. But he has mastered the art of seduction. He repeatedly tries to reassure her with his smiles. Like Satan in the Biblical story, Arnold tries to tempt her when she is left alone by her parents who go out for a party. His vile tactics on the innocent girl evoke horror about the things that are going to happen and pity at the helpless condition of Connie.

The following passage best illustrates that he is not what he seems to be and his promises are not what they seem to be.

Connie’s observation of Arnold, when he was waiting outside her house, also supports the point that there is something seriously wrong with him. He is not what he appears to be. “She stared at Arnold Friend. He stood there so stiffly relaxed, pretending to be relaxed, with one hand idly on the door handle as if he were keeping himself up that way and had no intention of ever moving again”.

His promise was not to come in until she touches that phone, and he will keep that promise. He kept his promise literally but killing the meaning of the very word promise. It is rather a threat rather than a promise.

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