Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is a highly descriptive story that features the life of Connie in the world of beauty. The fifteen-year-old girl spends most of her time doing beauty make ups and standing before the mirror for hours admiring her beautiful physique to the point of getting her mother pissed off. Besides being preoccupied with her beauty, the main character is outgoing and wanting in her sexual persona. She hangs out with multitudes of friends going about the business of having uncontrollable sex with men, boys and senior men, from all walks of life. As such, the story positively highlights the weakest points of the American society as far as upholding social values are concerned. The story describes the contemporary American society as that which is marred with immorality and highly compromised family values.
As depicted by Oates in the “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, irresponsible pre-marital sex among the teens is a commonplace in the American society. Putting the lifestyle of Connie in sharp focus, the main character takes a lot of pleasure in sex as promoted by the dirty popular music she listens to- a phenomenon that prompts her to ditch family life and preferably scope out boys at the local restaurant. Unlike other major cultures of the world, sexual gratification among the youth remains the most pronounced form of immorality that beleaguers the American society to the core of its mantle more than ever before in the world history. As manifested in the book, Connie (in the company of her many girlfriends) freely indulge in sexual intercourses with men- both acquaintances and strangers alike.
Secondly, the prevalence of adolescent rebellion is another salient feature of the American society as portrayed by Oates in her book: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Typical of Connie, the teens are in the habit of deviating from mainstream customs and social values that are approved of by their parents for the pop culture as propagated by pop music, peer influence and mass media. The beautiful teenage (Connie) deliberately resolved to go against the predetermined ways of her elder sister, June and mother but follows the trends of her friends away from home. For instance, her regular use of strong perfumes is the number one cause of frequent bickering between Connie and her mother from time to time. “How've you got your hair done…what the hell hums? Hair spray? Have you ever seen your sister June using such a stuff," exclaims the disgusted mother. (pp. 3).
The ongoing cultural retrogression in the American society leads to astounding irresponsibility in both parents and children on their parts. In the first group of Americans, parents never take interest in the upbringing of their children. This poor lot of American parents spends better part of their lives working in the fields advancing their careers and professions thus they are left with no time to impart the much needed morals to their children. American fathers truly rank lowest in the world in terms of parenting their children. Connie’s father is no exception. He comes home late from work, reads the newspaper before and after taking supper then proceeds to bed (pp. 5). He leaves Connie’s mother with the daunting task of parenting her two daughters Connie and adult June.
As a result of poor parenting in the American society, children have also grown up to be very irresponsible and wild in their behavior because they lack consistent training and supervision that befit them at this particular stage of growth and development. As illustrated by Oates in the story, Connie inherently hates doing domestic chores contrary to her elder sister June. She is adamant to cook, keep her room clean and make her own bed (pp. 5). This is the caricature of the American girls that the rest of the world will stand to carp. The biggest doubt that will always linger in the minds of many is whether the new generation of American mothers will adequately perform their god-given duty of taking care of their children to grow up into responsible and socially upright citizens as demanded by the noble call of motherhood.
Sexual abuse of the fast growing female minors is another topical issue in the American society as pointed out by Oates in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Based on the substantial evidences given in the story, the marauding male American adults are working out all possible ways to have younger girls yield to their sexual demands regardless of age difference and the prevailing dangers of contracting sexually transmitted diseases as well as unplanned teenage pregnancy. Arnold Friend is such a character that forcefully swayed the unsuspecting Connie into having an illicit affair of sexual nature with him using his gold convertible as a lure (pp. 7). At the bottom line, the social and cultural influences emanating from the contemporary American society emerges to be the biggest threat to the well-being of its future generations.
In conclusion, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is a true reflection of the American civil society as it stands today in all spheres of life. The girl child often falls prey to male adults who exploit them for sex.