Generational Conflict and Adult Decision-Making in John Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2441 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature

¶ … Generational Conflict and Adult Decision-Making in John Updike's short story "A&P"

The short story "A&P," by John Updike (410), first published in 1962, focuses on a moral/social dilemma suddenly, unexpectedly experienced one summer afternoon by a teenage boy, Sammy, who works as a check-out clerk at the neighborhood grocery store, the a &

Sammy's boss, Mr. Lendel, is a strait-laced, unimaginative pillar of Sammy's small east coast community. He teaches Sunday school each week and has for years; and Sammy's parents have been friends of his for years, too. At the end of the story, Sammy, in order to be true to himself, makes a decision about either staying at his job or quitting it that changes all of that. The choice he makes is the tougher but for him the more authentic one. Still, afterward: Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement... my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter" (Updike, 411).Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Generational Conflict and Adult Decision-Making in John Assignment

P" focuses on the tension Sammy feels between allegiance to a&P; his boss, and by association, his parents, and the rights of three teenage girls to dress as they please inside the store, even though Mr. Lendel voices to them his disapproval of their wearing only bikinis inside the "A&P," then quickly adds, "It's our policy" ("A&P"), retreating safely behind that well-worn phrase. Before that moment of truth, though, a strong sexual surge of energy had coursed through Sammy's visceral response to the physical attractiveness of the girls, the one he has named "Queenie" in particular. When the girls arrive at his check-out counter with a bottle of pickled herring, the sole purchase among them, and the girl paying hands him a folded bill, Sammy states: "I uncrease [sic] the bill, tenderly as you may imagine, it just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known were there, and pass a half and a penny into her narrow pink palm, and nestle the herrings in a bag and twist its neck and hand it over, all the time thinking." This inspires him to stand up for what he believes in, and he is forced to accept the consequences of his decisions and actions, and by association and the likely disapproval of adult society (and especially his parents; although, as Updike implies, Sammy's grandmother would have liked his decision to quit).

Sammy's tone as narrator is intended by the author to sound (and it does) more rebellious; irreverent and sarcastic than Sammy himself actually is, deep down. True, he is just a teen, and is probably just starting to even think for himself; in giving him voice, John Updike therefore, obviously and effectively, employs teenage idioms and cadences of the time. Still, though he does not speak like one, Sammy is a person of reflectivity and conscience, e.g., he recognizes to himself his real concern, at story's-end, about how the decision he has made will impact his family in this small, obviously judgmental community, and only after that about how it may impact himself now and later.

The environment of Mr. Lendel's a&P, from which Sammy now walks away for good, also represents the broader societal laws and regulations with which Sammy and others must regularly comply. Sammy has up-to-now been working within the rules and structures created and enforced by the adult world, e.g., he is forced to wear a uniform, apron and bow tie. He must obey behavior codes and is under the close watch of his adult customers as well: those who have "been watching cash registers for 50 years" (Updike, 408). Further, presence of banks and a church right outside the a&P represent the ever-present rules and commandments of everyday life that few (probably including him until today) ever question.

Though Sammy cannot articulate this fact, Mr. Lendel in rebuking the girls for their dress has breached Sammy's values - so much that Sammy realizes afterward that he must quit his job, whatever the consequences. In a larger sense, though, Sammy is challenging society's arbitrary and restrictive rules, and those at the neighborhood a&P are the ones he can either abide by, by continuing to work here; or not, by quitting.

But as is clear even early on in the story, Sammy is less-than-enthralled with his a&P job. He feels estranged from a&P's typical customers. One he thinks of as "a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I know it made her day to trip me up" (Updike, "A&P," 408). He calls other customers, scornfully, "sheep" [i.e., unthinking conformists, which, as it turns out, he himself definitely is not]; and he notices with distaste that some women strolling the aisles have "varicose veins mapping their legs" (409). Obviously, he can scarcely identify with such older, set-in-their-ways people. All that changes instantly, though, when three attractive girls his age saunter barefoot, bikini-clad, into the a&P, and spotting them, his boss Mr. Lendel voices sanctimonious disapproval of how little they wear. After the girls leave the store with their one tiny purchase, Sammy knows he must acknowledge and act on sudden, unfamiliar new feelings of outrage at how Mr. Lendel has just treated the girls - at no benefit to himself he must now side with the quickly-disappearing girls, not Mr. Lendel - inside what has instantly become a workplace microcosm of generational contrasts in attitudes and values on appropriate dress, sexuality, and even self-expression generally.

At this moment,

Sammy chooses to remain true to his values, quitting his a&P job on the spot; and being willing also to accept the consequences. Sammy's quitting his job at Mr. Lendel's a&P represents, as casually as Updike may describe it, a profound coming of age experience that will resonate, for better or worse beyond the a&P itself, and long past this sunny afternoon. His late grandmother perhaps "would have been pleased" (Updike, 411), if not his parents. Still, he walks away from his former place of employment, without looking back.

Essay 2: Home-Alone (and terrified) in Joyce Carol Oates's short story 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been'

The short story 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been' by Joyce Carol Oates, in which pretty teenage Connie, who prefers hanging out with her female friends to weekend outings with her family, is one afternoon with family away severely frightened by a predatory, wolfish-looking young man reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood's "Big Bad Wolf" (replete with shaggy hair and big, gleaming, white teeth). In "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" Joyce Carol Oates seems to define evil not only through the actions of the evildoer(s), but also from within the vivid imagination of the would-be victim, Connie.

Through fairy-tale-like descriptions of wolfish Arnold Friend; his accomplice Ellie Oscar (who visits too) and Connie's fear of them both, Oates employs thematic concept of evil (i.e., Arnold and Ellie) as an omnipresent, fairy tale-like symbolic force; albeit one that exists only in their relationship to Connie as prey. Connie, for her part, seems to live at present in a sort of uneasy limbo-state between childhood and adulthood. She is a child at home and acts and even looks that way; but away from home, she is an adult, or at least tries to seem one. As Joyce Carol Oates describes her early on, for example:

She wore a pull-over jersey blouse that looked one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home. Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head; her mouth, which was pale and smirking most of the time, but bright and pink on... evenings out (paragraph 5)

Oates seems to suggest here that Connie sheds her adult feelings faster than a scared sheep's brave-wolf clothing when a predator appears; adultness leaves her like Little Red Riding Hood's absent grandma, just when she needs it most in order to think clearly. Here Oates symbolizes evil's embodiment in the form of rapacious older men in a gold jalopy, especially the more talkative and aggressive one, a shaggy-haired individual who calls himself (ironically) Arnold Friend. As Connie grows more frightened of Arnold's escalating threats, she allows her imagination to run wild, to the point where she can neither think clearly nor even manage to call the police. Before he visits her, Connie has already encountered Arnold Friend earlier, while out with girlfriends. Then she half-teased, half blew him off - acting and feeling the confident young adult she really is not. Later Connie's make-believe confidence vanishes faster than a wolf-in-grandma's-clothing fleeing grandma's bed - the wolfish Arnold (in convertible) arrives at Connie's door with no one else home.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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