Books on teenage life and psychology are especially popular with readers and critics today. They are no less interesting to adults than to teenagers themselves, and there is no wonder about that - they contain some themes and ideas that recur not once during a person's life. One of them is the theme of identity search and formation, which is one of the key ones in the story Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates. In her story the author implies how uncertainty about one's one personality and place in the world can make them vulnerable to negative influences and manipulations. Indeed, it is relevant for grown-ups as well.
Connie, the main character of the story, is a typical adolescent girl trying to identify herself. In her soul she is so uncertain that she is doing so by attempting to find labels for herself outside. She is leaning on mother, sister, friends and her surroundings to understand who she is, comparing herself to them constantly. As a reflection of it, "she has a habit to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right". And she is lost in a thousand of these mirrors for sure. As a result, her life is split into two worlds - "Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home". At home she is cynical, cheating and rebellious; when she goes out with her friends she is flirty and likes to draw attention to herself. These are two different identities and both are not her own.
Another way of self-identification for Connie is her appearance. She knows she is pretty and labels herself as a beautiful girl without knowing who she is inside. She gives much priority to beauty, she even thinks her mother gives preference to her compared to her sister because she looks better. So, when Arnold Friend arrives at her house, she does not feel anything suspicious about him - just because he had familiar face and she liked the way he was dressed. From the moment of their meeting and on the story turns into gradual exposure of appearances and masks. In the course of time she understands that he is much older, that he suntan might be just make-up, that he wears a wig and has special insoles in his boots to make him look taller. He was totally fake and dangerous - it is because of her affection to appearances that she didn't notice the inner content of the person.
The function of Arnold Friend in the context of the story's theme is to strip Connie of wrong identities and leave her figuratively naked as she is under such terrible circumstances. When this is done, she feels nothing but emptiness - as she is really empty inside, she used to fully consist of her beautiful shell. And this shell no longer belongs to herself - she now sees her body as alien that she cannot control. Neither she is familiar with the creature that lives inside this body. Arnold's worlds sound demonically as a verdict to her, "The place where you came from ain't there any more, and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out".
To conclude, having an adolescent girl as the main character, the story reveals the theme, which is familiar to many humans no matter what their age is. The problem of self-identification is what each of us faces every day when having to contact with the outer world. Communicating with other people it is important to know who you are, your nature, your goals and your identity. Otherwise the society can swallow and destroy you without mercy. You got to have power inside you for no power could affect you from outside. The story by Joyce Carol Oates reminds us about the truth of such experience.