John Updike’s “A & P” and T. Coraghessan Boyle’s “Greasy Lake” have many similarities as well as differences as coming-of-age stories. “A & P” is about a nineteen-year-old boy working at a grocery shop who stands up against the manager trying to defend and impress the girls he is attracted to who are not “decently dressed” (Updike 18).
“Greasy Lake” is a story of several nineteen years old youths who play a prank on a bad character and experience what real bad characters can do.
Fortunately, Sammy and the narrator realize their deficiency – infantility – after their conflict with other people just like the ancient Greek proverb says, “Through suffering comes wisdom” (qtd. in Vannatta 1637). In Sammy’s case, “enraged that Lengel has humiliated the girls” (Uphaus 372), he quits his job trying to defend and impress the girls.
However, the girls just ignore Sammy and leave the store. Sammy is then left alone. At the end when he look back into the store from outside, “[his] stomach kind of fell as [he] felt how hard the world was going to be to [him] hereafter” (Updike 20).
There is a sense of regret when Sammy mentions the hardship in his life after the loss of job.
As Donald J. Greiner points out, “Sammy does not want to quit his job” (398). If he choose not to quit, he doesn’t have to face “the ugly world of harried housewives with varicose veins” (Greiner 398), nor he needs to suffer the loneliness – he gives up the last help from other people; from now on, he’s all on his own. At the end, he finally understands, in his epiphany, that “it is responsible behavior, not playing ‘adult-like’ games that will make him a true adult” (Quigley par.
1).In “Greasy Lake”, the narrator also learns something new – one’s appearance does not represent one’s true self. Three of the “dangerous characters” (Boyle 144), including the narrator and his friends, “drive out to scum-and refuse-clotted Greasy Lake in search for ‘action'” (Vannatta 1636). They mistakenly make a joke on Bobby, “who is in truth the ‘bad character'” (Vannatta 1636), and are forced to knock him out.
Then, when they try to rape the girl, they are chased into the bushes by Bobby’s friends.Hiding near the lake, the narrator is consternated and his true self – the good side of his character – is stimulated: “He is more shaken by guilt than by fear that Bobby’s friends will hurt him. He is, in fact, later overjoyed to hear the sound of Bobby’s voice” (Vannatta 1636). He, as well as readers, finds that even though he call himself “bad”, deeply within his heart, he has many good personalities (traits? ), such as sympathy for other people (is sympathy a personality? ).
After he encounters the corpse of the motorcyclist and experiences what Bobby’s friends do with his mother’s car, the narrator further more distinguishes the difference between one’s appearance and one’s inner self: a truly bad character does not have a “label” on his face. At the end of the story, “when the young woman says that the three [teenagers] look like ‘pretty bad characters’, the narrator’s reaction is hardly one of pride: ‘I thought I was going to cry'” (Vannatta 1638). Finally, the narrator completes this significant step towards maturity. He does not try to act like a bad character any more because he is not born to be bad.
All he wants is to go home and start his new life. Both stories are told in first person from the narrators’ point of views which allow reader to discover the immaturity in both protagonists’ character through their minds. In “A ; P”, there are many places where Updike demonstrates Sammy’s immaturity though his thoughts. When Sammy compare the three girls’ minds to “little [buzzes] like [bees] in a glass jar” (Updike 16), “[his] comment ironically lets the reader know more about the way his mind works [:].
.. Sammy’s ‘mind is even less than a bee in a jar'” (Quigley par. 6).
Furthermore, Sammy’s immaturity is represented by his colloquial language – “brashness of his colloquialism” (Greiner 398). For instance, the name, “Queenie” (Updike 17), for the girl Sammy likes, is given from her noble, distinctive movement: “She [Queenie] just walked straight on slowly . . .
She came down a little hard on her heels, as if she didn’t walk in her bare feet that much, putting down her heels . . . as if she was testing the floor with every step .
. . ” (Updike 16). Similarly, Boyle also developed the characteristics of the protagonist, the narrator, through the protagonist’s observations.
When the three boys get into fight with the “bad greasy character” (Boyle 146), Bobby, Digby foolishly believes that he can beat Bobby with his kung-fu moves which he learned in martial arts courses. However, the sad part is that “he [Bobby]…
laid Digby out with a single whistling roundhouse blow” (Boyle 146). Although both stories are told in first person, unlike the single point of view in “A & P”, Boyle, in “Greasy Lake”, uses “dual point of view – an older, mature narrator looking back at his foolish younger self . . ” (Vannatta 1637).
As a result, there are many contrasts between the protagonist’s childish image and the mature self. In Greasy, the editor gives an example: “The boy thinks that it will be a great joke to ‘razz’ their friend in the Chevy; the older narrator casts all this in an ironic light, reflected in his inflated rhetoric, when he speculates that after the joke the friends will ‘go on to new heights of adventure and daring'” (1638).In addition, the contrasting images – “between past and present . .
[and] between the ‘tough guy’ images nurtured by the teenagers and contrasting images of immaturity” (Vannatta 1638), further more depict the characteristics of the protagonist. Without the childish image, readers will not be able to recognize the growth of the protagonist; without the mature side, it is hard to distinguish the narrator’s infantility. Therefore, the duel point of view in Greasy Lake is crucial to the Boyle’s development of character.Going though their painful learning experiences, both teenagers, Sammy and the narrator, have learnt an important aspect of life that will benefit them for a long time: things are not always what people observed.
Disregarding the surface, one can understand things deeper and more thoroughly. Meanwhile, after the two incidents, they are “much closer to the maturity of the older [narrators] than to [their] childish [selves] of only a few hours before” (Vannatta 1638).
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