Joyce Carol Oates’s short story,”Where are you going, where have you been” was developed into a movie directed by Joyce Chopra, called “Smooth Talk.” In both the film and the short story, there are two main characters, Connie and Arnold Friend. Connie has a selfish, high ego and arrogant characteristics because she thinks she is very pretty and she does not care about anyone but herself. Arnold Friend’s attitude tends to oscillate, where he keeps flipping back and forth from anger to endearment. Generally, Connie shows affections towards attractive guys and later on, she encounters Arnold. He insists on taking Connie out, with his eccentric actions yet without any aggressive behaviors towards her. Connie shows signs of negligence; she gets daunted and does not know what to do, so she eventually goes with him. The film is an ideal rendition of the story. Chopra’s film has done an effective job of showing the correlations among the story’s central themes, which are Connie’s vulnerability affecting her identity, which leads to detachment from family.
Connie has issues with her identity. The fact that she keeps looking at herself suggests that she does not know who she really is. She looks in mirrors all the time. For example, when she prepares to go out with her friends, she uses the mirror as a tool to help guide her in the right direction. The mirror in essence makes her pretty and satisfies Connie when she is in public. The mirror contributes to her identity and it is symbolic that her looks (the mirror) guide her life. In a sense, her mother tries to put June’s identity upon her, as if the older sister was her. If one does not have a true identity, it can be changed at any time. Oates uses Connie’s mother as a way to portray Connie’s identity crisis. If Connie knew who she was internally, perhaps she would have said yes or no the first time Arnold asked her to go with him, without having to think about whether or not she wants to go. This scenario is also portrayed with Eddie. Eddie asks if Connie could hang out with him (Oates 1123). She shows that she has mixed feelings, wanting to go with him but not wanting to leave her best friend alone. She decides to go out with Eddie. What if Eddie turned out to be someone else and became a violent person? “I just hate to leave her like that,” Connie said earnestly, but the boy said that she wouldn’t be alone for long (Oates 1123). Clearly this shows that she does not know who she is. The problem is that she leaves her friend and goes with some stranger. The technique that the author employs to introduce the theme is the identity search and conflict that arises.
Throughout the film, Chopra has shown the struggle Connie has with identity. Connie seems to think she has two identities, one for “home” and one for “everywhere else.” As she prepares to go out with her friends, she prettifies herself in front of the mirror. When Connie is elsewhere, she dresses nicely and puts makeup on; she is satisfied with her physical features. There is a scene where Connie comes home sadly from the mall and sees her family playing cards. Her mother says, “You can go back to your room if you like.” This elicits the idea that her mother does not really care if Connie joins the family or not. Connie feels she is being pulled in different directions and her mother’s behavior perpetuates this by showing her indifference in Connie joining the family activity. She contemplates whether or not she should join them, but she decides to go to her room. Here, Chopra illustrates the meaning of this situation well. Chopra shows Connie being unsure of who she is. Chopra portrays Connie as having a dilemma between whether or not she should join the family, or if she should be an “outsider.” Connie’s actions and expressions clearly show the audience what Connie thinks about her family. It gives people an image of Connie not being comfortable with herself. It shows she is not certain who she is, so she has divided up into two “Connies.” Connie is not really certain how to identify herself. She has these facades or fake personalities for home, and the other for outside of home.
Connie shows signs of detachment from the family toward the beginning of both the story and the film. She tends to reject her mother’s suggestions that she should be more like her sister. “Sometimes, over coffee, they were almost friends, but something would come up-some vexation that was like a fly buzzing suddenly around their heads-and their faces went hard with contempt.” (Oates 1124) Sometimes Connie feels some connection to her mother. However, when her mother says something and she remembers an issue on which they disagree, it brings Connie back to the idea that she needs to detach from her family because Connie knows what is best for her. Connie is a very typical teenager. She is at that age when teenagers think they know better than their parents what is best for them. Sometimes they deceive or argue, or maybe even keep things to themselves, but they think their parents do not know anything.
Oates effectively presents Connie’s view through her thoughts, rather than through dialogue. She does not say certain things to her mother, they are just presented in her thoughts but they are dismissed just as quickly as they cross her mind. If dialogue occurred, then there would not actually be any detachment. If she actually talked to her mother then it would show that even if she did not agree with her mom, she still valued what her mother said. Similarly, by presenting Connie’s views through her thoughts, it shows that Connie does not feel comfortable enough to express her feelings openly. Connie thinks about the idea that she and her mother might be friends, but then with some disagreements, she thinks it is impossible. This is also showing the detachment, because she may not feel close enough to family to share her views.
Chopra effectively shows similar dissociation of Connie and her family. Connie in one scene says that she cannot wait until she is old enough to drive. Connie’s longing to drive symbolizes how she cannot wait until she leaves her family when she gets older and is able to be independent. Also, in a specific scene, Connie and her mother are in the kitchen having breakfast. Her mom notices that Connie uses hairspray. She gives attitude to her mother, is unwilling to pick up other peoples’ dishes, and she gets irritated when her mom talks on the phone. All these examples that Chopra has given have one thing in common: Connie’s desire and reasons to distance herself from the family. She is actually showing her mom that she is getting old now, by doing what many adults and teenagers do, using hairspray. Her mother says that June is an angel and does not mention anything nice about Connie on the phone. Connie believes June is the ideal daughter any family would like to have, and Connie thinks she is useless being part of the family. This could be a reason as to why she does not really care about the family anymore. For example, Oates shows this with a scene outside the house where her mother asks about why Connie did not get the paint roller while at the mall. If Connie really cares about the family, she would have bought them first, and then go shopping elsewhere. Connie disagrees that she should be more like her sister. She disagrees that she should not admire herself every chance she gets. She disagrees that she should go to a family outing with the rest of her family. It’s a way of showing that everything her mother says or wants for her is wrong. Connie is reluctant to go with her family to the party (showing detachment), and while her family is at the barbecue, Arnold shows up at her house (exploiting Connie’s vulnerability). Connie’s need to detach from her family becomes the driving force that leads to her encounter with Arnold Friend.
Connie’s issues with identity and her detachment relate to her vulnerability; this becomes the most apparent in her encounter with Arnold Friend. The fact that she is trying to search for an identity makes her that much more vulnerable. She is just becoming an adult, but she is still childlike. She is also discovering her sexuality and that she can attract men, and I think the guys played on this vulnerability. Connie’s detachment from the family enhances her vulnerability to the unexpected consequences. Arnold says, “Connie, you ain’t telling the truth. This is your day set aside for a ride with me and you know it.” (Oates 1126) Then Oates adds, “The way he straightened and recovered from his fit of laughing showed that it had been all fake.” Connie suspiciously asks, “How do you know what my name is?” (Oates 1126) She does not know for the moment who she is talking to, yet he knows her well. Her vulnerability is highlighted in the portions where she tries to get rid of Arnold; she tries to tell him she’s busy, where the author highlights her growing fear. She is vulnerable to danger. This is why her detachment from the family plays a great role in her vulnerability; the family is not there when she needs them, to give her the protection that she needs.
When reading a story, people cannot fully visualize the facial expression on characters’ faces, but in a film, viewers can easily figure out the mood in specific environments. This is what Chopra has done successfully throughout the movie. The filmmaker also provides excellent examples with distinctive features in depicting Connie’s vulnerability. For instance, when Connie and her friends are wandering at the mall, they meet two huge, muscular guys who want to hang out with them. Connie feels uncomfortable, looks scared and does not know what to do. Then, her mother maybe indirectly saves her, because Connie says that she needs to get paint rollers for her mother in order to get away from those guys. Without her mother’s “help,” she probably would not know how to confront those men. Chopra inputs these implicit meanings for viewers to think about the underlying significance behind the example, not just simply two big guys confronting frightened girls.
Unfortunately, the next time Connie gets in trouble, no one is there to save her. She has to deal with Arnold Friend on her own, all alone. This exposes her vulnerability. She realizes that he is much older than she is; she tries to back into the house to avoid him, he talks about knowing she’s alone and the rest of her family is at the BBQ. Her vulnerability can be compared to the thin screen door, that is all that is keeping her from Arnold Friend. She tries to call and says “mommy,” but the only thing she hears is the dial tone. Her vulnerability is what makes her give in to him; she questions, “What do I do now?” as she sits on the floor in the house. The way Chopra develops Arnold suggests that he is the devil. Like the devil, Arnold exploits the vulnerability of the weak.He knows many things about Connie and what Connie’s family is doing at the party. Also, he tries to convince Connie to go with him and Connie keeps rejecting him. However, near the end, she decides to go with him. The “dark magic” that Arnold possesses forces Connie to eventually go with him. This scenario shows how Arnold is exploiting Connie’s vulnerability. Once she is detached from her family, she is weakened and Arnold then takes advantage of that. His eccentric actions in the film lead people to think he is not a human being. Inside the house looks dark, while outside is sunny. Arnold could possibly cast a “dark spell” on the house to influence Connie to come out and go with him. She is young, immature, naïve, and she does not immediately realize the danger he poses. As she comes back home after the ride, she tells him that she does not want to see him ever again. When she walks back to her house, she sees her family back and they miss her. When Connie’s family arrives back, that is probably what broke the dark spell that Arnold imposed on Connie. As the spell has been broken, Connie realizes that only her family can give her the protection that she needs when she encounters these dilemmas.
Both the film and the story, created by Chopra and Oates respectively, have shown various connections with the central themes of vulnerability, detachment from family, and identity. The film is definitely an ideal version of the story because it elicits various examples to emphasize the themes that are also mentioned in the story. Through both the film and the story, the audience has the opportunity to understand Connie’s story; they learn of her weaknesses: vulnerability, detachment from family, and identity, and get the chance to, at least in the film, witness how she overcomes them.