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Meg Ryan, speaking in regard to one of her films, stated “I heard that chivalry was dead, but I think its just got a bad flu” (2017). Ryan is saying that the ideas of chivalry are still applicable and occur, however they are afflicted. Society’s idea of chivalrous behavior and when it applies has certainly shifted from the original concept. The clearest example of this can be seen in Joyce Carol Oates short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. The character of Arnold Friend reflects and manipulates chivalrous concepts, showing how impure these intentions can be while being presented as honorable.
In the middle ages, chivalry referred to the righteous behavior of knights; such as honesty, courage, courtesy, and respect. Chivalry was not necessarily simply acts of men towards women. Today, the definition has shifted more towards a set of behaviors that men exhibit to gain favor with women; however, the principle behaviors remain the same (Chivalry Today 2017). In essence, chivalry refers to actions and behaviors designed to protect and/or uplift women. For example, a man acting chivalrously may provide his seat to a female passenger on a train to prevent her from being subjected to standing throughout a long ride.
In this short story, the primary character Connie is described as a young, pretty, vain teenage girl. She doesn’t get along well with her mother and insinuates that her mother is jealous of her beauty. She is also not very fond of her sister because she is older and garners more of her mother’s approval; however, there is no conflict noted in the story between the two sisters. Connie feels that she must be two different people; the identity she presents at home, and the one she presents while out with her friends. During the time that she is out with her friend, she meets boys at a local drive-in diner; and at one point catches the eye of Arnold Friend. A few days later, when her family has left for a barbeque, Connie elects to stay home instead. While her family is gone, Arnold Friend and his friend, Ellie arrive at Connie’s home; and he tries to convince her to come with him. Arnold spouts notions of chivalry, but makes it clear that his intent is not nearly as honorable as his words imply. Though she refuses to comply with Friend, after he threatens her family she gives in. The last sentiments of the story are that Connie leaves her house to go to with Friend, knowing that unsavory events are awaiting her.
While Arnold Friend is talking to Connie, he presents himself as being a teenager like herself; though, Connie notices that he and Ellie both look significantly older. His presentation of himself through fashion, and his vehicle are done partially to make Connie feel more comfortable and safe. His verbal presentation uses common popular phrasing, and he tries to show her commonalities. For example, he tells her that he knows everyone and everything such as her friends and where her family is (Oats pp. 33-34, 1993). All of this is done to present himself as being someone she can trust.
Arnold also utilizes flattery to try to coerce Connie into complicity. He tells her how beautiful she is and how he prefers women of her figure. Flattery is often confused for chivalry, but this is not necessarily true. Chivalry is supposed to gain a gentleman favor by uplifting the lady. While flattery may do this in a vain sense, it does not truly show respect for the lady; only for her physical attributes.
Trust and honesty are important to chivalrous concepts because these actions convey that the gentleman is purely acting in the best interest of the lady, not himself. On multiple occasions, Arnold tells Connie that he cannot lie to her, which appears to be a chivalrous behavior. However, in his honesty he tells her that “I always keep my word. 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 or pretend anything because you’ll know you can’t.” (Oates pp. 37, 1993). In this one statement he tells her how nice he is but that there is no point in trying to escape his intentions of raping (and potentially murdering her) because he will not let her.
One key component of chivalrous behavior is acting in ways to protect the lady from unfavorable circumstances. While the entire nature of Arnold Friend’s intent is unfavorable, he tries to persuade Connie that he only wants the best for her. He tells her that he wants to take her on a nice drive to a beautiful area, calling this excursion a date and himself her lover. In reality, he plans to take her to an isolated area and force her into a sexual encounter. In true chivalrous nature, a gentleman would not force a lady into such actions, or even imply such activity. In this instance Arnold shows exactly how chivalry has been corrupted as a way to obtain immoral wants.
This example exemplifies chivalry in society today as it is simply a means to achieve what you want instead of being done because it is the proper thing to do. Arnold Friend presents himself as an honest and caring young man, trying to take Connie on a romantic and beautiful date. He tries to present himself as chivalrous, however he is anything but. Arnold Friend’s malicious intentions and his honest behavior subverts the chivalry he tries to exude.
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