M A&P (John Updike)
M A&P (John Updike)
The theme in John Updike’s A&P bespeaks not only of the perception against women but the sub-alternate position they assume in society in general - M A&P (John Updike) introduction. As a theme, A&P reflects, that, “women always assume the roles of stereotypes by men.”. These thoughts were clearly reflected in the story. As evidently described in the story, two stereotypes can be seen, a whore-concubine stereotype and a mother-old maid stereotype. These perception mirrors the theme of Updike’s short story. Discernibly, the story described the girls, candidly in voluptuous descriptions:
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“There was this chunky one, with the two-piece — it was bright green and the seams on the bra were still sharp and her belly was still pretty pale so I guessed she just got it (the suit) — there was this one, with one of those chubby berry-faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose, this one, and a tall one, with black hair that hadn’t quite frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long — you know, the kind of girl other girls think is very “striking” and “attractive” but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much — and then the third one, that wasn’t quite so tall. (taken from, www.tiger-town.com, p.1, see sources below)
A close perusal of the text reveals that the male persona in the story views the woman on outward appearance of the girls, in a seductive way, equally reducing them to being “whore-concubine” stereotype (Bressler, p.108, par. 2). The physical traits of a woman and their depictions, in many literatures and other media, were normally descriptions of their physical qualities and their anatomical study, as it became obvious in the text itself and has become “significant images in the work”. On the other hand, other stereotype of women, was vividly captured, to wit: “…and the women generally put on a shirt or shorts or something before they get out of the car into the street. And anyway these are usually women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs and nobody, including them, could care less”.(taken from www.tiger-town.com) This description reflects another stereotype a woman receives from a male perspective, the mother-old maid stereotype as clearly described in the text.
The male persona here, Sammy is the microcosm of the male perspective. Here, he sees the glass of a man trying to look women from the outside. He was obviously not a bystander inside the grocery store, but an employee, who must see that that the customers regardless of their orientation, have to be served. Yet, Sammy did more than these; he explored much of his observations towards these girls. He becomes a spectator to the girls in the grocery store, eliminating and removing his inferior position being a grocery employee against the superior lady customers. In return, the motivation of Sammy is no longer into that thought of an employee but, a watcher of the girls, to the point of even becoming an object of his sexual curiosity. The text reveals: “If it hadn’t been there you wouldn’t have known there could have been anything whiter than those shoulders. With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean, it was more than pretty.”(Text from www.tiger-town.com., see sources below). With these words, what could have gone inside the head of Sammy? Was he thinking of just doing grocery service or making these girls an object of his lust? This avenue is anti-feminist structure reflected in society and literatures and other similar depictions.
Symbolically, the grocery is not just a setting but a representation of the entire woman’s world. Women are always associated by society as the purchasers. In the story, no male character was present in the story except they were employees or accompanying husbands to the very least. In the stereotype of “whore-concubine”, women are shoppers-til; they drop, and to the mother-old maid stereotype, women are grocer hoarders. Thus, the grocery became the depiction of the women’s world where they assume their societal roles. The purchases reveal their stereotype: clothes, perfumes, cosmetics present the whore-concubine while the mother-old maid consumption were: cereals, crackers, drinks and other household items. This grocery setting of A&P is significant to the underlying thematic structure.
Clearly, a feminist perspective was used in this literary work. As pointed out earlier, in revealing the theme and the sub-alternate positions, (actually in stereotypes), the text is rich with “anatomical descriptions of women” which became the work’s major images (Bressler, 109 par. 1).
Parallelisms can be derived in the social-context of the American thought, while women are regarded to be equal with men, the depiction of women in by many of advertisements, films, texts and other media, mirrors the stereotype and perception of American society to women.
WHERE ARE YOU GOING AND WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN (Joyce Carol Oates)
The sexual awakening of any woman is like a rebirth. The realizations of young girl in the adult’s mans world presents a personal struggle and trauma to any woman. This is the theme of Joyce Carol Oates, “Where are you going and Where have you been”. The upsetting plot, which actually reveals a tragedy of the main character, Connie, personifies every young lady’s predicament of facing the harsh realities of sexual abuse and exploitation.
This theme reinforces the truth that, any woman, no matter strong, innocent, mighty or defenseless she may be, is susceptible to abuse by any superior strength. At that, all of us are open to all kinds of pain and abuse. The feminine attributes had become symbols of inferiority (Guerin, 198 par.2). But more prominently seen, the use of power and gender superiority is evident in the text to bolster the point of struggle and trauma:
She began to scream into the phone, into the roaring. She cried out, she cried for her mother, she felt her breath start jerking back and forth in her lungs as if it were something Arnold Friend was stabbing her with again and again with no tenderness. A noisy sorrowful wailing rose all about her and she was locked inside it the way she was locked inside this house. (taken from Celestial Timepiece, p. 1 see details below)
The epicenter of the story revolved around the importuning of a man, whom Connie barely knew and using his power to seduce her. The man never used any stronger physical force but his psyche hovers the weak and defenseless personality of Connie. His soft voice, yet full of deceit was the tone of their verbal clash. Clearly, Arnold Friend, was no friend at all.
Connie’s physical traits– her weaknesses was pointed out in the story, being a girl in a suburban America innocent in her ways. She is, by descriptions, prone to any sexual advances and abuse. The manifest limitation of Connie was her physical and psychological maturity, which by no means matched to the devious Character of Arnold Friend. On the other hand, Arnold was a man-of-the-world. He is experienced perhaps lurking around girls, and deviant Casanova prodding girls for her consumption. Arnold was perceived to be limitless in the story; he was soft but behind the sheepskin lays a ravenous wolf. His unbelievable and dangerous show of gentlemanliness is but a display of his power and superiority—that he can convince, and control Connie by her seemingly gentleness. But again, this is a ploy like a wolf silently waiting outside the lamb’s flock. Inside his character was a dangerous man.
The symbolism surfaced with the names of the Characters and the numbers somewhere mentioned in the story. The characters’ names were symbolism of irony and contradictories. The antagonist, Arnold Friend, was not a friend after all, but perhaps, an enemy, villain: a sex-maniac and sexual abuser. On the other hand, Connie is a Spanish-Latin derivation of Constancia, meaning steadfast, the total opposite of Connie’s character of gullibility and credulousness. The numbers also have significant symbolism, it reads:
Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey,” Arnold Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 and raised his eyebrows at her to see what she thought of that, but she didn’t think much of it. The left rear fender had been smashed and around it was written, on the gleaming gold background: DONE BY CRAZY WOMAN DRIVER. (taken from Celestial Timepiece, see sources).
Interpreting the relationships of the symbols in the text show that there is a direct connection between the numbers 33, 19, and 17 with the “crazy woman drivers”. Take note, that these inscriptions were found at the fender of Arnold’s car. Parallelisms can be drawn: First, the car represent a utility, like women who are just being used, utilized, ‘ride on’ by men. It is significant to point, that the car is like a woman. The numbers were done, as implicitly shown, by crazy women drivers. It could be the ages of women, whom Arnold had slept with or abused. Perhaps in their gullibility allowed Arnold to use them? The conclusion can be deduced that isn’t it that the depiction “crazy women drivers who were, 33, 19. and 17” were indeed women who were, crazy drivers of their bodies, who allowed their virginity or womanhood to be used only for the lust of men? Was it secret code of Arnold to hide his devilish and psychotic mindset? Further, an additional list can be added, “33, 19, 17, 15”, the last number for Connie.
In a modern context, America suffers from hideous sex-maniacs, abusive and sexually abberant individuals who lure the innocent young girls to their net of deception. Date rape, sexual molestation, pedophile are common problems in the American society. No statistics is needed to prove this; the voluminous of sexual crimes filed in court, the rampant teenage pregnancies were some forms of manifestations of these problems. This literature reflects the society then as it continuous to show truth in this generation.
FRANZ KAFKA: The Metamorphosis
The theme of Kafka, as widely criticized by the circles of literatis, was “the effects of isolation, removal and loss of usefulness of a working man in his family”. It also shows the cruelty and utilitarian tendencies of human beings to set-aside and disregards any person no longer useful to their social circles, sadly one of them, the family.
This theme was reflected in the passages:
“We have to try and get rid of it”, said Gregor’s sister, now
speaking only to her father, as her mother was too occupied with
coughing to listen, “it’ll be the death of both of you, I can see it coming. We can’t all work as hard as we have to and then come home to be tortured like this, we can’t endure it. I can’t endure it any more.” (from “Online Reader”, Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, p.28).
In this passage, it shows that Gregor’s family wants to get rid of him, eliminate him, by allowing him to die. The story revealed that Gregor faced the fate of uselessness and degeneration. His family who no longer recognize him is bent on the idea that he is not Gregory anymore. His transformation leads to his unproductiveness, as he becomes a vermin, almost a “white elephant”. He becomes too precious to throw, since he was still their Gregor, but to useless to keep, as he slowly becomes the very figure of an insect. As he shrinks in size, the human treatment to him becomes less, as he becomes less of a human being, the humane treatment to him diminished. His “metamorphosis” is not heroic, as those in Spiderman, or Batman, or other flicks. He becomes incomprehensible, almost alien to his family. He is of no use, to them, thus, eradicating him is not a long and painful struggle for his family. This is reflection of the utilitarian tendencies of human beings, to accept and maintain the useful and eliminate the unnecessary as they become a burden, later, it shall be pointed out, that this philosophical or even psychological tendencies manifest a reality in the modern society.
Gregor being the main character of Kafka’s work, display certain limitations, his physical attributes hinder him from further making contact to the human world, and making him impossible to continue his “utility” in the family. Though, he tried to live a normal life, when he suddenly changed into a vermin, yet, this was to no avail. His human faculties diminished that later made him almost good as dead. But this physical limitation extends beyond the anatomy or bodily structure. This limitation reflects the idea of his incapability to support, and be utilized for the good or survival of his family. It is not an issue, whether he becomes a bug, a cockroach or even a frog, but so long, as he can support his family, as he was before, no change can take effect. Another tragedy is that he later becomes, misunderstood and uncomprehended, his communications were no longer human. But, even so, if he can still show his usefulness, at least, his family would not thinking of “euthanasizing” him at the end.
The symbolism of being a vermin, or an insect is one of the central symbol of the story. An interplay of reality and fantasy in the plot surfaced the major symbolism—the insect inside Gregory, rather the Gregory inside the insect. This physical change symbolizes his sudden incapacity, the sudden change of his life, and the beginning of his struggles. Comparison to reality is not remote. Truly, a tragedy of incapacity can come to any breadwinner in the family, an accident, sudden sickness, or joblessness. When this becomes, the breadwinner, like, Gregor becomes a human-cum-vermin in the eyes of the family. Understanding may be given at first, but as the tendency of utility prevails over the mindset of the family, the love, affection of the family turns into disgust and isolation.
In brief, deconstructing Kafka’s Metamorphosis, two binary opposites can be derived, usefulness versus, uselessness. The usefulness of Gregory made him important, almost indispensable, contrasts to the latter idea and state of being useless, totally dispensable, almost a trash. Coming to the proper senses, his physical were no longer human yet, all the more he became humane in his thoughts, he even tried to praise her sister’s play of violin—appreciation is a trait not present in any animal or non-human. Yet, in opposition, the family, who claims that Gregor is not anymore Gregor, but an insect, has later displayed a non-human trait, “ultimate compassion”. Eliminating any loved one, who faced a tragic occurrence in his/her life, is not a milk of human kindness. This elimination of the weak, is exhibited only by the beasts, insects of the field, not human. A realization may appear: who is the real insect later? And who has become the real human being?
This truth in reality abounds. It is proper to ask, how many old, uncared, unloved, abandoned, senior citizens live in convalescent homes, without any contact from their families who left them under the care of a stranger? How many crippled breadwinners in the household of America were maltreated and isolated? Do they speak of a modern-real Gregor of our times? The answer lies with our own very human heart.
Bressler, Charles. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1994.
Guerin, Wilfred. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
________. A&P by John Updike. What Not, tiger-town.com. 2001. retrieved May 29, 2007. <http://www.tiger-town.com/whatnot/updike/>
__________. Online Reader, “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka. 2003. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, retrieved May 28, 2007. <http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=195359>
____________. Celestial Timepiece. Where are you going and Where Have You Been? Celestial Timepiece: Joyce Carol Oates Collections Home Page. 2007. retrieved May, 27, 2007. http://jco.usfca.edu/works/wgoing/text.html
Notes: The sources of the texts were electronic and they were properly cited, however the pages are electronically displayed thus it can be viewed in one continuous form in one window. Other sources have pages, also in one continuous form. However, for Metamorphosis, the “Online Reader” has page assignation for every text that appears on screen (please remove after reading). The sources can be clicked on the web pages consulted.