Pretty as a Picture

pretty as a picture

Hi, friends! I’m here to talk about literature once again. I know what you’re thinking: what a nerd. I’m not going to argue with that accusation, though. Anyway, let’s jump into the heavy stuff: sometimes, we all get caught up in how we portray ourselves to other people. In a society that teaches everyone to care too much about what other people think of them, it is crucial that we are all occasionally reminded that it’s okay – perhaps a good thing – not to be the center of attention all the time.

Before you continue reading, I encourage you to check out the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”  by Joyce Carol Oates!

Okay, friends, let’s take a look at this suspenseful tale! In this story, a seemingly normal fifteen-year-old girl named Connie finds herself caught in a downward spiral as she becomes consumed in portraying herself as physically attractive.  Sounds like a pretty normal desire for a teenager, right? Connie is truly a relatable character.  She displays common behavior for girls in their teen years; readers quickly determine that Connie is a little on the vain side, and she obviously thrives off of her beauty.  Oates includes bits of information about Connie that indicate that she has a normal mother-daughter relationship with her mother; they even occasionally bicker as she spends much of her time with her friends and dates a vast amount of boys. This all seems to be applicable to most young adults, and the relevance of the story doesn’t stop there; throughout the tale, readers follow Connie as she learns the hard way that being the center of attention isn’t always a good thing.

Fear is a common theme here, and Oates brilliantly uses third person narration to allow her readers to feel Connie’s fear throughout the story, making it easy to relate it to one’s personal life. Connie takes a lot of pride in being desirable, and she is often painted as a stereotypical youngest child; readers notice that Connie’s mother often implies that she would feel better if Connie behaved like her older sister, June, who seems to be rather dull.  Of course, like most teenagers, Connie disagrees completely with her mother, and she wants to make her own decisions.

Let’s move on to something more interesting: Connie’s dating life. The author’s use of third person omniscient allows her readers to feel the awkwardness as Connie senses the eyes of another boy on her when she is out with a boy she doesn’t really know one evening.  She shifts her attention to him, and he laughs while making an “X” motion over Connie. Ummm… creepy, right?  However, Oates has previously told her readers that Connie receives lots of attention from boys, so maybe we’ll let this slide for now.  It isn’t until later in the story that Connie realizes who he is and why she should be afraid of him.

It’s easy to see oneself in Connie’s shoes; after all, she just wants to have a good time, and her family doesn’t seem to get it. Stranger danger jumps out to readers when Connie chooses to stay home alone one afternoon, and a car she doesn’t recognize pulls into her driveway. When the driver steps out of his car, he calls Connie by name. At this point in the story, I feel personally threatened. Oates gives a large amount of detail not only on the car’s appearance, but also the way he is dressed, causing a strong feeling of unease to quickly arise.  The readers follow Connie’s thought process as she frantically searches for an explanation.  After a short conversation, Connie recognizes him as the boy who put an “X” on her at the diner. Gasp! I know, right? This stuff is straight out of a Lifetime movie! Oates provides a mental illustration of a boy, who notably looks like a grown man wearing makeup to disguise his features (EW), and panic begins to set in with Connie – and the readers.  Oates writes that the boy’s car is covered with odd images and words of which Connie did not know the meaning.  The boy introduced himself as Arnold Friend (umm, whose friend?) and tells Connie to get in his car.  Connie declines by saying she has stuff to do, but Arnold is persistent. Honestly, Oates is killing me with the anticipation now. Readers feel the sheer panic that Connie feels when Arnold tells her that he knows of her family’s location and when they will arrive back home. As Connie starts realizing this man has been watching her, she begins to panic. This part of the story is absolutely terrifying to me; this is a real-life scenario, people!

This story has been pretty crazy so far, but wait – there’s more! The climax of fear occurs when Connie realizes that she is trapped in her own house with absolutely no way to receive help! This is starting to sound like my worst nightmare. Because Oates encourages her readers to live the story through Connie’s eyes, it’s easy to sympathize with her as she recognizes her mistakes.  After Connie realizes that Arnold has been watching her house and has a fool-proof plan to get her to become submissive, she begins to regret spending so much of her time objectifying herself around her town.  Arnold threatens to hurt her family if she attempts to call for help, and the level of fear continues to rise as Connie’s fate is being determined.  Connie is feeling pretty useless at this point, and I feel her pain.

Okay, so now you have it: being the center of attention isn’t always a good thing.

Please share your thoughts with me!

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