Judges 19 and Arnold Friend’s Enigmatic Code in Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

Matthew Teutsch
5 min readSep 16, 2021

On Tuesday, I wrote about the ways that The Blood Brothers’ “The Salesman, Denver Max” musically fits the tone — the ebbs and flows — of Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I didn’t expect to add another blog post on this story, but after teaching it, I recalled how much the story warrants multiple examinations. With that in mind, I want to write about one of the most enigmatic aspects of the story, the numbers on the side of Arnold Friend’s gold jalopy.

When Connie asks him what the stuff painted on his car means, Arnold goes through the various sayings and eventually comes to the numbers 33,19, 17. He tells Connie, “Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey.” He glances at her to see what she thinks about the numbers, but Connie does not exhibit any thought in regard to the numbers and their possible meaning. Arnold doesn’t mention the numbers anymore, and we do not hear or see them at any other point in the story. However, it appears that they have some symbolic meaning, at least to Arnold because he tries to see if Connie can crack the code.

I have seen various ideas about what the numbers represent. One thought argues that the numbers represent a woman’s measurements, but these measurements would result in a woman/girl with disproportionate measurements. C. Harold Hurley posits that the numbers carry a sexual connotations because when added together they equal 69, a sexual position. This reading makes sense in the context of the story and in relation to Arnold’s continuous claims that he will teach Connie about lover, and specifically sex. He tells her, “Yes, I’m you’re lover. You don’t know what that is but you will. . . . And I’ll come inside you where it’s all secret and you’ll give into me and you’ll love me —”. These lines, along with Arnold’s other actions, back up viewing the numbers in relation to a sexual term; however, the most convincing interpretation of the numbers comes from the Bible.

Mark Robson reads the numbers in relation to Judges 19:17 which reads, “When he looked and saw the traveler in the city square, the old man asked, ‘Where are you going? Where did you come from?’” The man’s questions, of course, directly correlate to the title…

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Matthew Teutsch

Here, you will find reflections on African American, American, and Southern Literature, American popular culture and politics, and pedagogy.