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The story's main theme is the effects of vanity. Although the heroine possesses all of the characteristics expected of a fifteen-year-old, her arrogance is ultimately the cause of her destiny. She relished the thought of being the object of sexual desire, which was what initially drew Arnold Friend to her. Connie has this superficial habit of looking in the mirror and admiring herself. She also went so far as to skip a family outing in order to better wash her hair. Her first instinct when she hears Arnold’s car pull up in the driveway is to make sure her hair is in proper condition instead of wondering about the intention of the two men. All these are symbols of vanity in the story and the effect they have on the protagonist’s outcome. Further, the main protagonist personifies vanity when she refuses to register that some of her actions throughout her story lead her into the eventual situation she finds herself.
The author portrayed the characters in the story as flawed and heroic. The characters have their shortcomings in that they exhibit various inadequacies throughout the story which result in unforeseen consequences. The characters are heroic in that through certain outcomes they finally realize the error of their ways and decide to atone for their mistakes.
Connie is flawed. In fact, despite her various encounters with men, she allows Arnold to take over her body and mind. Her shallowness and naivety enable her to succumb easily to Arnold’s seduction. When Connie first recognizes that Arnold is at the doorstep of her house, the first thing she notices is that she likes the way he is dressed instead of realizing the impending danger his presence (Oates 2). This self-centeredness and her excessive pride in her and other’s appearance lead her to the final instance in the story where she is involuntarily forced to enter into Arnold’s car desperately unaware of her fate. However, Connie’s actions at the end of the whole story can be described as heroic as she offers herself to her waiting captors so that her family can be spared and thus remain unharmed.
The author portrays the characters differently in the story. Connie, the protagonist, is classified as an obsessive teenager who is keen to find her way in life and thrives by cultivating her sexual persona through different encounters. She has distanced herself from the family unit and personifies how most of her fellow youth exist in the story. She has two personalities. One of the personalities is where she is with her friends and the other when she is with her family (Oates 1). Her behavior is typical of a rebellious teen that is anxious to explore her sexuality and thrives in the fact that men and boys find her attractive. Despite her flaws, the author allows her to redeem herself by accepting that she was wrong to fraternize with the wrong company. On the other hand, the antagonist, Arnold Friend, is an ambiguous character whose flaws come in the open when he confronts Connie at her house. He threatens Connie’s family so as to coax her to go outside. The author uses him as the catalyst that transforms Connie from her previous state where she was a child to an adult.
The society in which the protagonist exists is a mix of different conventions that have essentially converged at the same time. The rush of optimism that characterized this period is embodied by the different characters’ need to challenge basic social conventions. This urge eventually leads to the rise of the hippie culture that was accompanied by a certain wave personified by the teenager’s sexual freedom.
The characters in the story are in conflict with the society in that they go out of their way to bend or break the social conventions that existed. The protagonist, for example, often suffers from anxiety and feels isolated in what she refers to as a hostile world. The sexual experience portrayed by Connie is one way in which the author shows how the different characters are rebellious and determined to go against the cultural and societal conventions present (Oates 1).
In the end, Connie’s need to try and change the society faces challenges when she recognizes the error of her ways and realizes that there is a reason why certain rules and regulations are present. Connie’s reluctance to get into Arnold’s car at the end of the story is one of the redeeming qualities she conveys to support this logic. She realizes that Arnold is an older guy who might harm her and thus is hesitant to get into his car. This is a return to sanity by Connie as she rejects Arnold’s advances. However, she is compelled to go with them after the two men threaten the safety of her family.
Thus, the period can be described as a life destroying society due to the various implications that it has for the various characters. In the story, the way Connie submits herself to Arnold and his friend is symbolic of how women existed in a patriarchal society where they are oppressed in different ways and manners. Her actions up to then have in a sense brought about these repercussions, and the society is the main purveyor. The male dominated society and the freedom granted to the youth are reflective of the moral decay of this specific society.
Most of the characters in the story exhibit a certain freedom over their actions which dictate what choices they make throughout the story. The mass culture that exists in their society which includes the music, movies and the general idea of teenage love in a way brainwash the young people. These superficial influences enable them to mimic the sexuality that is evident in the popular music and culture is what eventually leads to Connie’s eventual ‘demise’ or the end of her innocence.
Some of the protagonists’ actions such as her sexual experimentation are influenced by the culture portrayed in the music and movies present at the time. It does not help that Connie’s parents have abandoned their role in the growth of their daughter in which they are supposed to act as guides. Her father barely recognizes her presence, and her mother’s concern is only limited to her jealousy of her daughter’s beauty. This enables the protagonist to have a sense of freedom which allows her to choose her path which is often characterized by the media influences present around her. Eventually, this freedom is personified by Connie’s ability to choose her fate when she decided to sacrifice herself for the sake of her family (Oates 9).
The young people are however not to blame for their actions as they are mere pawns in the transforming society. Their behavior is typical of rebellious teenagers who are discovering themselves and the freedom they are accorded to participate in some of the activities they undertake are the actual problems that bring about all these outcomes.
Connie serves as the moral center of the story as she embodies the values and standards that in a way imitate the moral standpoint of the society she exists in. She is the protagonist and mirrors the behaviors of her fellow young people and how the freedom they possess has led to the eradication of the pre-existing values championed by the society. She is important in the story as she conveys the important lesson that abandoning the values held by the society can in some instances have their consequences. Through the actions of both the protagonist and the antagonists, a valuable lesson is eventually learned. Moral centers are fundamental in short stories as they dramatize and convey the struggle that exists between good and bad and virtue and vice. Singling out the moral center in these stories helps the reader understand the author’s intentions and what moral lesson they wanted to put across. In this story, the change of heart by the protagonist when she decides to go with the antagonist so as to save her family signifies a change of heart on her part thus signifying a moral lesson. She is used by the author to convey the negative qualities held by Arnold Friend.
The most apparent conflict in this story is between Connie and Arnold Friend. It does not necessarily start out as a conflict but eventually slowly turns into a standoff between the two parties. This conflict is emotional as the antagonist appeals to Connie’s emotions to get her to come outside into his car by threatening to harm her family (Oates 8). Arnold is in the wrong in this situation, and this is seen through his reluctance to leave Connie in peace when she rejects her earlier advances. In the end, the right does not prevail as Connie agrees to leave with the two men despite not knowing what fate awaits her. She is left with no choice as she fears for their safety of her family and so sacrifices herself thus enabling the two antagonists to succeed in their pursuit.
Oates, Joyce C. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 2002. Print.Top of Form
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