Innocence to Adulthood
Any young protagonist experiencing a significant change of knowledge about the world or himself will point or lead him toward an adult life. As seen in John Updike’s “A & P” and James Joyce’s “Araby,” both of the main characters are confronted by situations that bring them to “thresholds of maturity and understanding” (Porter 64). There are attributes that the character must obtain and levels that the character must pass through during their struggle towards wisdom and clarification.
Although both characters from “A & P” and “Araby” make it to this passageway toward adulthood, Sammy from “A & P” goes further on the path than does the narrator of “Araby.”
Despite the narrator of “Araby’s” progress, Sammy matures more after his initiation as he appreciates his struggle and lessons learned more than the character in “Araby” by accepting his fate and moving forward instead of dwelling over his circumstances and blaming others for his frustration. As Sammy grows-up in a quiet, suburban town in New England during the early 1960’s, he takes on a bleak outlook of life as he becomes bored while serving his community as a cashier at the local A & P store.
He does little to revolutionize his life during his adolescence, and finds himself searching for an outlet from his monotonous environment when he is nineteen. Sammy is presented with the opportunity of change when three girls stroll into his work one day unknowingly bringing him freedom. Sammy is stimulated by the disorder they bring into the store as they are scantily dressed in bikinis, giving him a new vision of women from the traditional “housewives in pin curlers” he is used to seeing (Updike 1344).
As Sammy’s pessimism controls his perception of life, he has become very critical and condemnatory towards everyone else’s faults but his own. Although attracted to the leader of the girls he names Queenie, he tries to pass judgment on who he believes she is in order to rationalize his own feelings of superiority. Sammy criticizes her out of his own insecurities as he is jealous of Queenie’s confidence. He watches in amazement as the girls rebelliously “[walk] against the usual traffic” of the A & P while the “sheep [are] pushing their carts down the aisle” (1343). While shopping barefoot and in swimsuits, Sammy becomes increasingly intrigued and interested in the audacity of Queenie and her friends to socially rebel against traditional views of proper girls. As the girls approach his counter for checkout, he becomes nervous in his realization that he must assist the enchanting juvenile delinquents that have captivated him during their visit to his market. Upon concluding their purchase, Sammy’s boss, Lengel, discovers the inappropriate attire of the young girls, and informs them of their social disgraces in front of the other customers. Although Queenie has enough self-confidence to ignore Lengel’s request as she is socially superior to all of A & P’s workers, Sammy feels it is his duty to avenge her honor. In an act of selfish chivalry, Sammy quits his job”…quick enough for [Queenie] to hear, hoping [she’ll] stop and watch [him], [her] unsuspected hero” (1345).
Unfortunately, she is out of hearing distance and is unaware of Sammy’s declaration of insubordination. Lengel warns Sammy to contemplate his actions more, as his middle-class family would be proud to have their son work his ranks up through the A & P. In a refusal to conform and continue his family’s simple life of drinking lemonade and Schlitz, Sammy removes the constraints of his apron, freeing himself of A & P’s shackles. Sammy successfully leaves his clerk position despite Lengel’s advise, and quickly finds himself alone and uncertain in the market’s parking lot. After the realization of the severity of his actions, Sammy begins to feel uneasy knowing that freedom has a great price and that the world was going to be hard on him thereafter (1344). In a less rebellious story than “A & P,” a young Irish man’s obsession is portrayed in Joyce’s “Araby.” The narrator is a studious, introverted adolescent who has uncontrollably fallen in love with his friend Mangan’s sister. The young man begins to lose his identity in his quest for love as he becomes bored with school and refers to it as “ugly monotonous child’s play” (641).
The narrator unrealistically fantasizes about the possibility of a relationship, believing his strong convictions will bring her to him. He pathetically prays for her affection at night, and follows her around town in what could be considered “confused adoration” in his state of misguided infatuation (641). As the young man has low self-esteem and is emotionally repressed by his strict Catholic upbringing, the narrator shies from speaking to Mangan’s sister despite his strong emotions. Since he seems to be the most stoic and mature adolescent in their lane, Mangan’s sister approaches the narrator one day to ask him if he would go to the bazaar Araby for her. She is unable to go due to her religious duties, but asks that he goes instead and informs her of the fascinating Arabic culture he absorbs at the festival. Although economically superior to him, the narrator foolishly promises her a lavish gift believing it will win her affections. The narrator has a desperate need to please, despite his financial disadvantage. After the girl’s request of the narrator, he thinks of nothing more than going to Araby. He loses interest in all other activities, and meticulously plans his night at the bazaar only setting himself up for disappointment. On the night of Araby, his uncle is late from work and gives the narrator very little money to take a train to the bazaar and buy a gift for the object of his affections. He arrives late at the fair only to find he cannot afford a single trinket for his Irish beauty, and can tell her no stories of Eastern wonder as most of the booths and attractions have already gone for the night. In hopelessly trying to find a gift, the narrator realizes that life is cruel and that society has imposed financial and social barriers keeping him from happiness. Instead of realizing that he is merely a young man with his own destiny to make, the narrator has foolishly blinded himself from seeing beyond his present circumstance.
The young man does progress as he discovers that life is unpredictable and nowhere near perfect, but has not passed the threshold yet of understanding how his experience could help him through challenges to come. The common thread between the characters from “A & P” and “Araby” is that both young men are able to mature and grow at their own levels through trying situations surrounding their own personal dissatisfaction in life. Progress can only be made through discontent, and both young men were searching for escapes from their monotonous lives. Unfortunately, both characters chose unknowing girls as their muses, and were only subject to disappointment when their expectations were not met. Both Sammy and the narrator of “Araby” learned that through depending on the unreliable, they are only subjecting themselves to disillusionment. Individually the young men had to learn difficult lessons of loss, but were able to gain realistic views of the harsh world that surrounds them. Through their emotional losses both characters found freedom within themselves.
The difference in the progress between the two young men pertained to the understanding of the knowledge that was gained, instead of the emotional loss that was endured. Despite the narrator from “Araby” recognizing the value of his lessons learned in the story, he remains bitter after many years regarding his fate and blames society for his frustration. This lack of understanding and maturity only leaves “Araby’s” narrator at the first phase toward adulthood, as he has yet to accept his fate as his own doing. Even though Sammy is uncertain of his future, he is realistic that the pain he endures is his own. He blames no one but himself for his mistakes, and uses his frustration as fuel for success in future endeavors. Sammy is able to look back upon his experience at A & P as a life lesson instead of a tragedy like his family views his choices. Although Sammy was initially uncertain of his fate, his actions placed him in the further along the path toward adulthood, as he has been struggling for wisdom but willing to continue on his voyage to adulthood. Through “Araby’s” narrator placing his misfortune upon the back of society he is left at the beginning of one’s journey towards maturity. Progress towards maturity will develop upon his realization that he can overcome many restrictions imposed upon him by authority much like Sammy in “A & P”. Finding value in his experience and understanding the purpose of his initiation will allow the narrator to make progress in his struggle towards adulthood.
- Joyce, James. “Araby.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Dana Gioia, Ed. NY. Longman Publishing. 2001.
- 8th edition. Porter, Gilbert. “John Updike’s “A&P”: The Establishment and an Emersonian Cashier.” The Harcourt Brace Series in Literature. Laurie Kirgener and Stephen R. Mandell, Ed. NY. 1998: 02-66
- Updike, John. “A & P.” The Story & Sts Writer. Ann Charters, Ed. NY: Bedford/St. Martins Press. 2003. 6th edition.
Cite this Any Protagonist Experiencing a Significant Change of Knowledge About the World
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