A common theme in much of Oates work is her belief that the 20th century is spiritually empty. That people have no spirit of their own and therefore are easily influenced and harmed. In Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Oates creates the character of Arnold Friend to be the antagonist. He is intense and powerful. As the story continues he is like a dark persistent cloud that weighs heavy on Connie and the reader. Arnold Friend is evil personified and his omnipotence allows him to know and abuse Connies insecurities for his own uses.
Arnold Friend does not exist. He appears only to Connie, and Connie is the only person who sees him. At no point in the story is he acknowledged by any character in the story. Even his Friend Ellie makes no response to Arnold comments which Arnold excuses away by saying hes shy. Any conversation they have with each other seems disjointed and incoherent. Connie first sees Arnold one night when Connie and her friend cross the highway to go to the burger joint. The burger joint is a trendy hangout for a much older crowd.
It is only Connie who sees Arnold Connie couldnt help but let her eyes wander over the windshields and faces all around her, her face gleaming with a joy that had nothing to do with Eddie or even this place; it might have been the music¦, and just at that moment she happened to glance at a face a few feet from hers (2). Oates also describes Arnolds car as a convertible jalopy painted gold (2), and later in the story Connie easily recognizes the car as it pulls into her driveway.
The car is smashed up, and written on. Surely if the car (and Arnold) was real it would have fetched a comment from someone at the hangout. Arnold speaks only to Connie, and foreshadows his intentions in a single comment Gonna get you, baby (2). Many critics believe that Arnold Friend is a daydream, or a fantasy lover conjured up by Connie. They are quick to point out that The story is fraught with religious overtones and nightmarish imagery, and it is doubtful that only the natural world is presented.
(Dessommes). However, it is interesting to note that when Arnold comes to Connies house he remains in and speaks with her only in the doorway. He promises and states that he has no intention of going in without an invitation. He is unable to cross over the threshold without being invited. This is a characteristic of an evil being. He tries hard for an invitation, romantically wooing at her Yes, Im your lover. You dont know what that is but you will. I know that too. I know all about you.
But look: its real nice and you couldnt ask for nobody better than me, or more polite. Ill hold you so tight you wont think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because youll know you cant. And Ill come inside you where its all secret and youll give in to me and youll love me (8). Connie remains unconvinced and contemplates calling the police which she eventually decides not to do. Oates also describes Arnold Friend actions, and writes she looked out to see Arnold Friend pause and then take a step toward the porch, lurching.
He almost fell. But, like a clever drunken man, he managed to catch his balance. He wobbled in his high boots and grabbed hold of one of the porch posts (8). The word lurching is usually used to describe the movement of an animal, and he wobbles because he has hooves instead of feet. Arnold is a diabolic figure and a depraved lunatic is indisputable. As Oates reports, she based him on a tabloid psychopath whose specialty was the seduction and occasional murder of teenage girls(Wesley 256).