This story was first published by the literary journal Epoch in 1966 and was included in Oates’s 1970 short story collection, The Wheel of Love. Its acclaim was so swift and certain that, as early as 1972, critic Walter Sullivan noted that it was “one of her most widely reprinted stories and justly so.” Along with the story’s frequent appearance in textbooks and anthologies, Oates herself republished it in 1974 as the title story for Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?: Stories of Young America. This collection’s subtitle points to Oates’s ongoing interest in adolescence, especially the psychological and social turmoil that arises during this difficult period. Her preoccupation with these topics, along with her keen sense of the special pressures facing teenagers in contemporary society, is evident in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” This story is seen by many as one of Oates’s best, and in the words of scholar G. F. Waller, it is “one of the masterpieces of the genre.” Oates’s realism often garners such praise; critics and readers alike have commended the presentation of the story’s central character, Connie, as a typical teenager with whom readers may identify, dislike, or even pity. A similar believability is instilled in Arnold Friend’s manipulative stream of conversation and its psychological effects on a vulnerable teenager. Critics also praise the story for its evocative language, its use of symbols, and an ambiguous conclusion that allows for several interpretations of the story’s meaning. In 1988 a film version of the story was released, entitled Smooth Talk.
References to popular music and slang date the events in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” to the mid-1960s. The small-town Setting reflects a typical suburban landscape that includes such familiar sights as a shopping plaza and drive-in restaurant. This Setting is further described in reference to the newness and style of the three-year-old “asbestos ranch house’” in which Connie lives. Such an innocuous Setting is incongruous with the violence suggested in the story, and the contrast serves to heighten the reader’s uneasiness. The lack of specific description of the Setting serves to universalize the story’s Themes, which suggest that Connie’s lack of identity is a legacy of modern suburban culture. Though the actual location of the story is irrelevant, the radio show Connie listens to, the “XYZ Sunday Jamboree,” may refer to radio station WXYZ in Detroit, where Oates lived at the time the story was written.