Arnold Friend

Arnold Friend

A Chapter by Debbie Barry
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An essay about the nemesis in Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” Written for ENG 1121: Composition and Analysis.

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Arnold Friend


22 February 2009


 

          Arnold Friend represents one of the greatest dangers in our society: an element of evil disguised by a thin veneer of good.  Arnold is no friend to Connie as the reader discovers in the course of the Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going?  Where Have You Been?  In fact, he embodies the destruction of her world.  Arnold attempts three methods of approaching Connie: first by relating to her as another teenager, then by coaxing and cajoling her as a man who wants her to be with him, and finally by revealing his true nature of evil by threatening and terrorizing her.

          When the reader first encounters Arnold, there are already signs that he is not all that he seems to be.  Connie sees Arnold at the drive-in restaurant where she and her friends gather to escape the parentally-determined bounds of life and to explore the new experiences of adolescence.  Arnold appears to be just another teenager “with shaggy black hair, in a convertible jalopy painted gold,” but he does not blend in with the other young people as well as he might hope to do as the reader sees when Connie tries not to look at him but “she couldn’t help glancing back and there he was still watching her.  He wagged a finger and laughed and said, ‘Gonna get you, baby,’ and Connie turned away again…” (Oates 332).  Because of Arnold’s appearance as a teenager, Connie does not hear his comment as any more than the macho braggadocio that is common in many teenage boys on the threshold of manhood.  The reader, however, sees this scene as a foreshadowing of the evil that overcomes Connie’s life.

          When Arnold next appears in Connie’s life, she is at home alone on a Sunday afternoon.  At first, Connie’s only concern on finding Arnold and his companion in her driveway is her appearance and she “whispered ‘Christ, Christ,’ wondering how bad she looked” (Oates 334).  It is a reflection of the shallowness of Connie’s personality, which the reader sees as she wanders the mall with her friends, and Arnold is ready to capitalize on the defect in her character.  Connie does not recognize the car, but she does recognize Arnold, and she gives no indication that she is pleased to see him, nor does she do anything to encourage him.  The reader sees new clues to Arnold’s artifice and to the evil beneath Arnold’s surface as Connie sees him in the sunlight: “he had shaggy, shabby black hair that looked crazy as a wig and he was grinning at her… the driver’s glasses were metallic and mirrored everything in miniature” (Oates 335).  The appearance of Arnold’s hair as a wig indicates the falseness that surrounds him, and its shabbiness gives the impression of something undesirable about him.  The mirrored glasses hide Arnold’s eyes, preventing Connie from seeing that his smile does not reach his eyes and thus keeping her from recognizing the dishonesty in the grin he displays to put Connie at ease.

          From the time Arnold arrives at Connie’s house, his true essence and identity quickly become clear.  He is the embodiment of evil, even Satan himself, and his one goal is to lure Connie to him.  He shows Connie that he knows a great deal about her, suggesting a degree of omniscience, as he tells her, “’He ain’t coming.  He’s at the barbecue’…‘Aunt Tillie’s. Right now 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 backyard…‘Sitting around.  There’s your sister in a blue dress…and high heels, the poor sad b***h…And your mother’s helping some fat woman with the corn…I know all about you’” (Oates 340).  It is clear that Connie believes in what Arnold is telling her, and believes that he does see and know these things, as she answers him: “’What fat woman?’ Connie cried…‘Oh, that’s Mrs. Hornby…Who invited her?’” (Oates 340).  The reader can see at this point that, although Connie has not yet yielded to Arnold, she is beginning to fall under his influence.  Where she would normally question how Arnold knows these things, Connie now accepts his knowledge as a matter of course. 

          Arnold makes his immediate plan for Connie quite clear once he has her attention.  He still maintains his friendly appearance, but his words hold menace for Connie as he tells her what he plans to do to her: ‘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…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…Don’t you know who I am?’ (Oates 340, 342).  Arnold’s words hold two meanings for Connie: physical and spiritual.  When he says he will come inside her, he is telling her about the rape he has planned for her, and about the sexual activity he intends to engage in.  Even if she gives in and goes to him willingly, she is a child, and sex between them will be rape.  His words have spiritual meaning, as well, in his role as Satan, as he says he will come inside her.  He is telling her that his evil will come into her soul and take over her spirit, becoming a spiritual rape of the childish innocence that she works hard to hide in her daily life by her flirtations with boys, her confrontations with her mother, and her disdain for her sister.

Throughout Arnold’s conversation with Connie, he works to make her feel at ease so she will go to him of her own accord.  He seduces her with attention she doesn’t get from her family, tempting her to leave the security of her home and enter his world.  Ironically, his world is bright and sunny while the inside of the house is darker, as houses tend to be when compared with sunny, summer days.  As Arnold coaxes Connie toward his spiritual darkness " and toward the physical evil of rape that he suggests in his promise that ‘I’ll come inside you where it’s all secret’ (Oates 340) " and away from the spiritual light of the innocence of childhood, he appears to be encouraging her to leave the darkness of her home and step into the light with him.  Connie resists Arnold at first, responding with ‘Like hell I am’ when he tells her ‘We ain’t leaving until you come with us’ (Oates 339).  She continues to resist, even threatening ‘If I call the police they’ll get you, they’ll arrest you…You’re crazy,’ she whispered” (Oates 342), as he pushes her more and more compellingly, and Arnold’s façade crumbles.

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…out of the side of his mouth came a fast spat curse, an aside not meant for her to hear.  But even this “Christ!” sounded forced…She watched this smile come, awkward as if he were smiling from inside a mask.  His whole face was a mask, she thought wildly, tanned down onto his throat but then running out as if he had plastered makeup on his face…Evidently his feet did not go all the way down; the boots must have been stuffed with something so that he would seem taller. (Oates 341-342)

Arnold is losing control of his disguise as his evil, which was well-concealed under the artificial nighttime lights of the drive-in restaurant, is now revealed in the bright sunlight of daytime at Connie’s home.  He is unable to walk properly, and is unable to keep his words banteringly light and friendly as they have been up to this point.  Connie recognizes the mask that incompletely covers Arnold’s wickedness, and which is a darker version of the mask she wears when she makes herself up to go out with her friends.  Arnold’s mask of innocence covers a core of evil, whereas Connie’s mask of indifferent sophistication covers a core of teenage innocence and insecurity.  When Connie recognizes her own reflection in Arnold’s subterfuge, she is afraid of him, and wants to get away from him: “’What " what are you doing?  What do you want?’ Connie said. She backed away from the door but did not want to go into another part of the house, as if this would give him permission to come through the door…’Leave me alone,’ Connie whispered” (Oates 342-343).  Connie’s fear is new for her as she begins to recognize the evil that has come to her life.  Her family life, with its dysfunctional relationships, has not prepared her for the vileness that exists in the world, and her assumed maturity and sophistication fall away as she realizes that this boy " whom she now sees is not a boy at all " is very far out of her league, and poses a distinct threat to the equilibrium of her life.

          When Arnold sees that appealing to Connie’s need for attention and affection is not working, he drops the pretense of friendliness and his true character becomes visible.  ‘It’s all over for you here, so come on out.  You don’t want your people in any trouble, do you?’ (Oates 343).  He abandons his attempt to charm Connie, and instead threatens her family, appealing now to her innate goodness and to her love for her family to lure her into his plans.  Fear for her family is the most effective weapon Arnold uses against Connie; she does love her family, even though she doesn’t like her parents and sister most of the time, and the threat against her family sends Connie into a panic.

She ran into the back room and picked up the telephone.  Something roared in her ear, a tiny roaring, and she was so sick with fear that she could do nothing but listen to it " the telephone was clammy and very heavy and her fingers groped down to the dial but were too weak to touch it.  She began to scream into the phone, into the roaring.  She cried out, she cried for her mother, she felt her breath start jerking back and forth in her lungs as if it were something Arnold Friend were stabbing her with again and again with no tenderness.  A noisy sorrowful wailing rose all about her and she was locked inside it the way she was locked inside the house.  (Oates 344)

Where Connie sees the door as a barrier to keep Arnold out when he first arrives at her house, she now sees it as a barrier that holds her in the trap that her home has become.  She cries for help, but she has distanced herself " physically and emotionally " from her family, and there is no one to hear her pleas for help now that she has recognized the darkness in her life and wants to escape from it.  Arnold embodies all that is wrong in Connie’s life, and in him she recognizes her own doom.  She is powerless to call for help when she is surrounded by evil and most needs to be rescued.

          In the end, Arnold’s darkness drives Connie to do the best, brightest, and noblest thing she has done in her life.  She has a decision to make and “She thought, I have got to think.  I have to know what to do” (Oates 344).  In this moment, when she has recognized Arnold as the Devil and has passed through fear and panic, Connie becomes calm and detached.  “She felt her pounding heart…it was nothing that was hers” (Oates 345).  She yields to him and gives herself over to evil not because she is an evil person, but because beneath her shallow, self-centered exterior she is truly good and filled with love for the family she really doesn’t like.  She goes to Arnold coolly to protect her family from being harmed.  “She brushed her hair back out of her eyes…she watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were safe back somewhere…watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited” (Oates 345).  Connie has already left her body behind.  In her final moments, as her physical form steps into the “limp…embarrassed embrace” of evil (Oates 345), her spirit rises above the fear and the danger as she sacrifices herself for her family.

          Arnold Friend destroys Connie’s physical world.  He terrorizes her and threatens to harm the only people Connie truly cares about.  He shows her the evil behind his friendly mask, and forces her to look behind her own mask.  Ironically, as he seeks to draw her into his darkness, he instead reveals to Connie the light that is inside her, and so is unable to capture her spirit when he captures her body.  In the title of the story, Oates asks “Where are you going? Where have you been?”  By her sacrifice, Connie goes from where she has been in the darkness and desolation of her unfulfilling teenage life to where she is going in the safety of light and goodness.




© 2017 Debbie Barry



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Debbie Barry
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Added on November 10, 2017
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Tags: essay, assignment, literature, Carol Oates, "Where Are You Going? Where Hav, evil, danger

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Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI



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I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..

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