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Essay/Term paper: 'where are you going, where have you been'

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Definition Essays

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Aaron G
English 303
Fall 96
"Where are you going, Where have you been"

The story, ³Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been² by Joyce Carol Oates is truly littered with conventions of Psychoanalysis. Freud developed a list of defense mechanisms used by the human subconscious in order to deal with issues too intense for the conscious mind. These strategies of the psyche are translated into symbols scattered throughout this work. These symbols are expressed through the characters of Connie, and Arnold Friend.
The first convention is denial. Denial is when the subconscious cannot handle an issue or event and forces the individual to falsify reality and flatly refuse to accept it. Denial rears its head in several places in this story. The first occurrence is Connie's father's denial of the possibility of mischief in his budding adolescent fifteen year old. Most adults(especially parents) know what it means to be a teenager, so it seems odd that Connie's father does not take more interest in her Friday night goings-on. Instead of asking questions and probing into the situation he chooses to stay complacent about it thereby avoiding a confrontation with her and also avoiding having to deal with issues of her newly found sexuality and the circumstances surrounding it.
The most obvious example of denial falls in the lap of Connie herself. Connie is prone to deny the possibility of danger in the confrontation with Arnold Friend. This could be out of need for acceptance as she does not receive the attention a young girl entering adulthood requires.
Another convention explored in this work is repression. Repression is defined as the mind essential strategy for hiding desires and fears. It is the fact that Connie is denied the attention at home that causes her to seek it through the only other outlet she understands at the that age...her sexuality. Obviously, the group that is most receptive to this is boys. Her desire to be accepted causes her to repress her initial feelings of fear and uneasiness she experiences in the early minutes of her meeting with Arnold, which ultimately proves to be her downfall.
There is also a prime example of displacement in the very first paragraphs of this tale of goulish nature. Displacement is when the mind takes a feeling or emotion it does not(or can't) accept and instead of aiming it at the person or object that has caused the anguish, displaces it onto someone or something else that is either more convenient or less capable of defending itself. For example, if a father gets scolded at work and comes home and yells at his wife, she in turn gets angry at their son who expresses his anger by kicking the dog! We see this mental strategy in Connie's mother. In the first paragraph Oates tells of how Connie's mother is constantly scolding her for very typical behaviors of a teenager...primping, self-admiration, using hair spray and make-up, etc. These scoldings originate from her mother's inability to deal with her own lack of beauty. Connie's mother cannot confront anyone about the fact that she has aged so she takes out her frustration on Connie for having the things she can't regain herself, such as youth and beauty.
The final defense mechanism displayed in this piece of literature is rationalization. This ties in with denial to some extent here. Connie initially experiences feelings of uneasiness, discomfort, and even fear by Arnold's demeanor and presence. This would seem normal enough but then rather than go inside and lock the door right away she rationalizes her own safety by accepting the compliments paid to her by Arnold. While she doesn't exactly say "thank you" to him she does cock her head and blush which he notices quickly. Upon noticing her acknowledgments he learns what makes her comfortable and what doesn't and proceeds to use them to his advantage in order to eventually get her into a position where she becomes helpless and finally falls prey to him.
Finally, although it can't proven without much research and actual contact with the author, the possibility of the author actually using this work to project a personal experience must at least be mentioned. As contact with this author would be virtually impossible without perhaps hiring a private detective it is possible to conceive that maybe at sometime in her life, Joyce Carol Oates might have been accosted or actually assaulted by a man similar to the villain in this story. Her subconscious might find it easier to deal with the terrible real event by expressing it through literature. This succeeds in allowing her to come to grips with her fear without suppressing it and at the same time keeping it less threatening than talking about the actual experience.


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