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Arnold Friend as an Allegory for Bob Dylan in Oates’ Short Story

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Joyce Carol Oates’ 1966 short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” tells the tale of a fifteen-year-old girl, Connie, who has an encounter with a man who is attempting to manipulate her into leaving with him. Arnold Friend, the manipulative man behind the screen door taunts Connie with sexual innuendo and thinly veiled threats of bodily harm towards her family if she does not cooperate. Many critics have compared the character of Arnold Friend to Satan himself and said that Connie’s encounter with Friend represents the fall of Eve in the Garden of Eden. This popular reading stretches the text, looking for a Biblical reason to justify such an act of evil. Arnold Friend is not a flesh and blood threat to Connie, he is an allegory for Bob Dylan, in one of her teenage daydreams and the evil he represents is the manipulation of rock and roll as a gateway for sex and drugs.

Connie’s encounter with Arnold Friend in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is, in fact, a heat-induced dream sequence. Oates writes that Connie is lounging at home on a summer’s day in July, while her family has gone to a barbeque. The first evidence that Oates provides that Connie is tired from the heat is when she falls asleep while she is drying her hair outside.

Connie sat with her eyes closed in the sun, dreaming and dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love, the caresses of love, and her mind slipped over onto thoughts of the boy she had been with the night before and how nice he had been, how sweet it always was, not the way someone like June would suppose but sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs; and when she opened her eyes she hardly knew where she was, the back yard ran off into weed and a fence-linen of trees and behind it the sky was perfectly blue and still”.

This section of the story shows that Connie is dreaming of boys that she has been with, and how she feels that these encounters are like the kind of love that is promised in the movies. There is evidence that Connie is asleep as Oates’ states Connie is dreaming. When Connie eventually goes into the house, we see evidence that she may not be awake either. When Oates writes, “She shook her head as if to get awake. It was too hot”. This shows that Connie shakes her head as if she were trying to wake up, but Oates provides no clear evidence that Connie actually wakes up from the dream that she was having about the boy she had been with last night. Connie’s head shake here is just her subconscious transferring from one dream about boys, to the next. This illustrates how everything after when Connie sits in the yard is a dream and her encounter with Arnold Friend is her subconscious blending together Bob Dylan and boys she has seen at the drive-in.

Oates’ description of Arnold Friend matches elements of Bob Dylan’s physical appearance and given that Connie is dreaming; her subconscious is mixing elements of the boy she saw at the drive-in and Dylan’s features. The dream that Connie is having could be affected by music that someone is playing in their yard, or as they drive by in their car. Oates’ dedication of the story to Bob Dylan plays in here; during the time she wrote it, Dylan had released songs that had similar menacing themes to the Oates’ story. Oates demonstrates that Friend is a combination of Dylan when she writes; “And his face was a familiar face, somehow: the jaw and chin and cheeks slightly darkened, because he hasn’t shaved for a day or two, and the nose long and hawk-like”. The blend of Dylan’s features and the blend of other boy’s facial features shown here in Connie’s dream state. Connie sees that Friend’s face is familiar because it takes on aspects of Dylan’s as well as aspects of other boys she has met. Arnold Friend’s physical characteristics are shown when Oates describes him when Friend first pulls into the driveway. “There were two boys in the car and now she recognized the driver: he had shaggy, shabby black hair that looked crazy as a wig and he was grinning at her”. This quote describes Friend’s hair which is in a style similar to Bob Dylan’s shaggy hair. Dylan’s. Oates uses other physical descriptions for her comparison of Arnold Friend and Bob Dylan. Mike Tierce and John Michael Crafton state in their article “Connie’s Tambourine Man: A New Reading of Arnold Friend.” provide further evidence of Dylan’s characteristics in the story when they say “That Oates consciously associates Arnold Friend with Bob Dylan is clearly suggested by the similarities of their physical descriptions”. The authors provide extended evidence that Friend is an allegory for Dylan when they write; “It is no wonder then that Arnold speaks with ‘the voice of the man on the radio’ the disk jockey whose name, Bobby King is a reference to ‘Bobby’ Dylan, the ‘king’ of rock-and-roll”. Here Tierce and Michael demonstrate references that Oates put into the story to illustrate how Arnold Friend, is an allegory for Bob Dylan. The fact that Friend’s voice changes and blends into the same voice of the disk jockey show that Connie is dreaming, and she is seeing a combination of people’s facial traits in Friend’s face. The evidence provided by Arnold Friend’s appearance shows that Oates has modeled Friend after Bob Dylan’s physique.

Oates uses Connie’s dream sequence, and Arnold Friend to demonstrate what fears have been associated with boys and rock-and-roll music. Connie’s fear of Friend is representative of things she has been told about boys. Connie perhaps has been told not to get into cars with strange boys or has been told not to go out with boys alone. This is why she sneaks around to meet boys at the drive-in. Connie understands subconsciously that men can present a sexual danger to women. The fear that Connie exhibits in the dream is fear of growing up, fear of boys, and teenage insecurity. She knows in her mind somewhere that men can be dangerous when it comes to everyday encounters. This is why she knows to fear Friend when he begins to point out things about her that he should not know, like her name. Connie’s fear of Friend in her dream symbolizes how adults feared their children listening to Bob Dylan. Connie is enthralled by the music and Friend in her dream represents Dylan, Bob Dylan’s fans followed him with almost religious fervor. Tierce writes, “Dylan was more than just a ‘friend’ to his listeners; he was ‘Christ revisited’, ’the prophet leading his followers into a new Consciousness’”. This example here illustrates how Dylan’s fans thought of him at the time; they made him into more than just an artist. Connie does this as well with her thoughts about Arnold Friend. 

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” can be viewed as a story with many different meanings. The popular readings cast Friend as an allegory for Satan, or for the Pied Piper killer, Charles Schmid, in Tucson Arizona. This story is alarming to many people because Connie’s situation could, and does really happen. Despite the evidence, one cannot overlook the other possible readings. This story can also be read as a teenager’s summer sun dream, that happens after a long summer night of flirting and making out with boys. Arnold Friend is a figment of Connie’s imagination who represents the sexual freedom of the 1960s, a teenager’s summer of romance, and the messiah of Rock-n-Roll, Bob Dylan. Oates’ dedication at the beginning of the story ‘For Bob Dylan’, as well as her creation of the physical characteristics that Arnold Friend and Dylan share show that Oates created Arnold Friend as an allegory for Dylan.

Works Cited

  • Oates, Carol Joyce. “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” Compact Literature; Reading, Reacting, Writing, edited by Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell, 9th ed., Wadsworth, 2016, pp. 506-517.
  • Tierce, Mike, and Crafton, Michael John. “Connie’s Tambourine Man: A New Reading of Arnold Friend.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 22, no. 2, Spring 1985, pp. 219-224. 

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Arnold Friend As An Allegory For Bob Dylan In Oates’ Short Story. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from
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