…and when she opened her eyes she hardly knew where she was, the backyard ran off into weeds and a fence line of trees and behind it the sky was perfectly blue and still. The asbestos ‘ranch house’ that was now three years old startled her-it looked small. She shook her head as if to get awake. (Oates 368)
Oates attempts to make it appear as though Connie had dazed off for just a short while. But, the significance behind what truly happened is only discovered later in the story. Though there are many ways to interpret what Oates truly meant Connie was still in her dreamy state. The description Oates gives of the setting is perfect, like a dream would be. The cartoon-like still blue sky, the perfectly aligned tress, and the suddenly smaller house give off a dreamy environment. When Connie shakes her head as if to wake up from her daze, Oates is indicating a state of uncertainty and confusion. Though the environment in a dream is usually familiar, certain aspects seem abnormal or out of place. Connie wasn’t waking from a daze, but engaging into a dream.
The two characters Connie comes upon have great significance to the dream-like situation of the story. The main character Connie conflicts with is Arnold Friend. One would assume that his name would symbolize his friendly personality. Oates portrays Arnold’s name to be read as “A Friend.” His confident expression and image towards people illustrates his friendly side. In addition to friend, Oates also allows Arnolds name to be interpreted as “A Fiend.” With his rugged looks and sly personality, words like brute and cruel fit him well. Though the slight difference in spelling is confusing, they have completely opposite meanings. The deceptive name is not the only part of Arnold that is manipulative. Arnold introduces himself by saying, “I wanta introduce myself, I’m Arnold Friend and that’s my real name and I’m gonna be your friend, honey, and inside the car’s Ellie Oscar, he’s kinda shy.” (Oates 370) He uses his name as a tool to trick the unwary. His friendliness is only noticeable on a harsh and demanding level. He uses words like “honey” and “sweetie” to make everything he says sound nice. But, Arnold only gives the impression of being demanding with phrases like, “Don’tcha know it’s Sunday all day and honey, no matter who you were with last night today you’re with Arnold Friend and don’t you forget!” (Oates 372) As the story proceeds, Arnold starts to say much more imaginative and unreal things. Instead of asking Connie if she’d like to go for a ride with him, he becomes demanding and impatient. This whole image of Arnold is developed through the uncertainty of Connie. He is exactly what Connie is afraid of. Though his words are friendly, he does not accept the answer no. He is an image of Connie’s unprotected subconscious.
Ellie on the other hand, is a character that is frequently out of the picture. Connie only gets one good look at him, and he doesn’t say or do much throughout the entire story. His name appears to read like “elide,” meaning shorten or eliminate. His personality throughout the story represents those words very well. Arnold makes it seem as though Ellie doesn’t even matter, almost as if he only exists to assist Arnold. There are three occurrences in the story where Arnold tells Connie that Ellie can just “sit in the back.” (Oates 370-372) He appears to do whatever Arnold wants him to do, almost as though Arnold is controlling him.
Similar to Ellie, Connie’s thoughts are controlling her as well. Though each of the characters seem quite real, they’re all just part of Connie’s imagination. Arnold is exactly what Connie wants, in the worst form. Though the acknowledgement of Arnold being a character of Connie’s imagination is hard to agree with at first, certain clues throughout the story give it away. “He had the voice of the man on the radio now. It was the same voice, Connie thought.” (Oates 372) When Connie fell into her daze, she had the radio playing. Sometimes actual elements in the real world affect our dreams. In this case, the radio was affecting the voice of Arnold’s character in Connie’s nightmare. Other than Arnold’s voice, some of Connie’s actions seemed dream-like. Once she picked up the telephone something very unusual occurred:
Something roared in her ear, a tiny roaring, and she was so sick with fear that she could do nothing put 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. (Oates 376)
Simple actions sometimes become impossible in our own dreams. No one knows why it happens, but everyone has experienced a dream where something so trivial and automatic becomes nearly impossible. The dreamy situation is brought to life with all of these occurrences.
Dreams always seem real when we are actively engaged in them. The transition between reality and imagination is nearly impossible to identify. Connie unconsciously fell asleep and drifted off into a dream. Her situation appeared to be real at first, but rapidly transformed as the story proceeded. The characters present were brought to life by her imagination, both parts of her that she was unstable about. Some of her actions were only unachievable because her subconscious was preventing her from completing them. Her mind had developed images of characters. These characters knew everything Connie did, because she had created them. The weaknesses in her subconscious were acted upon and everything fell into place, making her dream feel so real. Her reality became a dream, and her dream became a nightmare.
Oates, Joyce Carol. "Where Are Going, Where Have You Been?" The Wheel of Love.
John Hawkins and Associates. 1970. (reprinted in The Story and Its Writer. 3rd
Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford Books: 1991.) 1055-1068.