25 Sept. 2014
Arnold Friend is (Probably) the Devil
Fantasy versus reality, and how the line between the two can be so easily blurred, is a common theme amongst fictional pieces of literature. In Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” the line between the two becomes decidedly blurred somewhere around the beginning of the second half of the story, which takes on an almost dreamlike quality. The arrival of the bizarre Arnold Friend signifies the shift from reality to fantasy. Many of Arnold’s characteristics can be likened to those of the Devil, and these curious characteristics, both physical and behavioral, place the character in a hazy sort of grey area between real and surreal.
At first glance, Arnold Friend’s physical appearance seems to be that of a perfectly typical young man – which is just how the Devil would want it to look. With closer inspection, though, it becomes apparent that this is merely a facade. Upon removing his mirrored sunglasses, Arnold reveals one of the most obviously unnatural aspects of his physical appearance, his eyes. They are, as Oates describes them, “[…] like holes that were not in shadow but instead in light. His eyes were like chips of broken glass that catch the light in an amiable way” (Oates 486). This description of his eyes is the first real clue that Arnold Friend is anything but human, and it is really from this point onward that the line between fantasy and reality becomes somewhat hazy. During the conversation between Arnold and herself, Connie realizes that Arnold does not seem to be as young as she initially thought. She cannot seem to tell if he is eighteen or thirty; it is almost as though he is ageless – a quality that would certainly describe an immortal being such as the Devil. As the sense that something is terribly wrong begins to overwhelm Connie, it occurs to her that Arnold appears to be in disguise. Oates writes, “She watched this smile come, awkward as if he were smiling from inside a mask. His whole face was a mask, she thought wildly, tanned down to his throat but then running out as if he had plastered makeup on his face but had forgotten about his throat” (490). She also notices how carefully he places his sunglasses on his head, indicating that he does indeed seem to be wearing a wig. Many Christians believe that the Devil disguises himself to accomplish his malicious goals, and Arnold does appear to be desperately trying to disguise himself.
Just as important as Arnold Friend’s peculiar physical characteristics are his strange behavior and mannerisms. Oates writes,“ ‘[…] Don’t hem in on me, don’t hog, don’t crush, don’t bird dog, don’t trail me,’ he said […] as if he were running through all the expressions he’d learned but was no longer sure which of them was in style […]” (491). Arnold used phrases from various points in time – as though he did not know which were popular that year. Since the Devil is immortal, it would make sense for him to lose track of exactly when he was.
Arnold Friend’s behavior also reveals another of his peculiarities. Oates writes, “Soon as you touch the phone I don’t need to keep my promise and can come inside. You won’t want that” (490). Arnold swears to Connie that if she picks up the phone he will come in the house after her. Despite the fact that she does indeed pick up the phone, he makes no move to enter the house. Some Christians believe that the Devil must be invited in. If Arnold Friend is indeed Satan, this could explain why he does not enter the house after Connie.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Arnold’s behavior is his inexplicable, downright supernatural knowledge about Connie and her life – and how he uses this knowledge to his advantage. The Devil is supposed to know all about our weaknesses and how to use them against us. Arnold Friend does exactly that; he uses his knowledge of Connie’s vanity and selfishness to lure her out of her home and,…