Writers Read, Part VI: One Last Detail in Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

Close Reading & Mastery

Summary Recap

Inspired by a string of murders committed in the 60s, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? follows a young girl who defies her mother and is stalked by group of older men. However, there’s far more to this story.

Read the Story: Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Before reading these posts, you may want to read Oates’s story. It’s everywhere. Find a copy and read it. Once you’ve read the story, you’ll be able to understand what I’m analyzing and have far clearer context.

Imagery Taken Just Far Enough

In my last post, I mentioned this excerpt from Oates’s short story, “One of his boots was at a strange angle, as if his foot wasn’t in it.”

I had mentioned that it’s a freakish image. And, well, it is—at least in my mind.

Let me explain.

There are so many images of the Devil out there. However, one that has stuck in my mind is the one on the left—curtesy of Wikipedia (and many other sources). It’s heinous. It tends to churn my stomach not because I’m superstitious, but it’s The Exorcist movie disturbing.

I bring it up because of the Devil’s feet in that image: cloven.

That boot “at a strange angle” rings, to me, of the misshapen form in this image. Now, let me back up and say that I have no real clue as to why the boot is “at a strange angle.” I have dug into any sources discussing this detail, so this analysis is my own, and I may be completely wrong.

However, in my mind, why else would that boot be “at a strange angle” if it wasn’t because Arnold Friend (An old fiend) was the Devil? There’re probably other answers, but this one rings truest to me.

The horror of it. That simple detail. Arnold Friend walking toward Connie. The Devil, walking toward Connie.

It’s such a cool moment in the story, however, disturbing, and it’s not too much; it’s just enough.  

So, what’s the point of all this?

It’s a cool detail, and I wanted to mention it because depending on your imagination, something as simple as a “boot […] at a strange angel […]” given relevance can be so much more than what the base words are.

Again, I love that small piece of Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?. Really, it’s what I remember most when reflecting upon and recalling Oates’s story.

My Next Post

In my next post, I will go… honestly, I’m not sure yet. I want to switch gears. I have several posts planned, and I’m not devoted to one path or another.

So, until next week.

Author: Chuck Lang

Chuck Lang is a writer of science fiction and horror. Influenced by his years as a carpenter, four years serving in the US Navy, and his fifteen years teaching literature, he holds an MFA in Writing (Fiction) from Lindenwood University. After completing his first manuscript, the supernatural horror novel DEAD GODS, in 2019, he has begun work on its two sequels, DEAD GODS: INHERITANCE and DEAD GODS: RESOLUTION. He is currently developing two additional projects, an urban fantasy horror novel and a military science fiction novel. He lives and writes near the frequently flooded Red River in Fargo, ND with his wife and two redhead sons.

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