John Updike's A&P
Length: 1488 words (4.3 double-spaced pages)
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Can an individual break hierarchical associations to find freedom and at which point would enlightenment be validated by achieving freedom through conflict? William Faulkner writes in “Barn Burning” about the desire for the individual to tear away from family because of disbelief in values and morals portrayed by a father. Abner becomes powerless with the release of slaves and chooses to transfer his negative desire for power onto his son. Although Sarty breaks the bond of blood between he and his father, he walks away with a greater sense of enlightenment. John Updike portrays the same hierarchical break in “A&P,” but within this story, the break is between an employer and employee. The break of power is driven by ulterior motives of women and fame. Sammy chooses to defy the authoritarian figure with hopes of proving himself, but to his surprise, his actions are invalidated after he walks outside and the girls are gone. Dale Bailey writes of a hierarchical break in “Hunger: A Confession” between two brothers and the gradual manipulation causing Simon to ultimately murder his brother Jeremy. Simon’s enlightenment is achieved through unconventional methods and only after the death of his brother, does Simon grasp the magnitude of murdering Jeremy. The obvious cause of Jeremy’s death was Simon taking the tools and murdering his brother. Had Jeremy and his family treated Simon differently, he would have never been forced to ruthlessly murder his brother.
Simon and Jeremy’s relationship took many shapes. For one moment, Jeremy would treat Simon as though any brother would by exchanging baseball cards rummaging through unknown mysteries down in the basement. Jeremy would tell frightening stories of ghosts, Indian burial grounds, and psychopathic murderers just as a normal brother would, but the desperate attempts of frightening Simon drove his brother mad. Simon was never good enough for his parents and was always half the boy Jeremy was. His mother spoke of him as “the changeling” speaking of him as if he generated from somebody else’s gene pool. Simon spoke of himself as “scrawny, an unlovely kid, and forever peering out at the world through a pair of thick glasses that Jeremy used to light ants on fire” and looked upon his brother as “blond, handsome, broad shouldered, friendly, and the kid everyone wanted to sit with in the lunch room.
” Simon was never good enough for his family, and battled having absolutely no worth in anybodies eyes except for Mr. Fuzzy’s. Mr. Fuzzy is portrayed as having human feelings, emotions and characteristics. Simon allows himself to transfer how he truly feels into Mr. Fuzzy. When he tells him “Don’t cry, Mr. Fuzzy he didn’t mean anything by it.” Mr. Fuzzy is Simon’s way of expressing his own emotions, such as later when Mr. Fuzzy is frightened by the horrific story of Mad Dog Mueller. Jeremy drove Simon to sheer madness by telling these stories. Thus, it is only applicable that Jeremy was killed the same way he spoke of in his story. After Simon realized what had happened, the reality of the situation set into affect.
“I just stood there waiting for Jeremy to laugh that stupid mad scientist laugh of his and tell me it was all a game. And I have to admit something: I was scared, too. I was so scared.
But it wasn’t the dark I was scared of.
God help me, I didn’t want to turn on the light.” (Bailey)
No longer was Simon scared of Jeremy’s Vincent Price laugh, mainly because he would never laugh in such a manner again, he was scared of the consequences of his actions. He quickly realized Mad Dog Mueller may have been completely phony, but he murdered his brother the same way. “The dark lay heavy on my skin, pinning me down, it was all I could do to open my mouth, to force the word out – Jeremy.” Simon soon realized what he done. Through turmoil and uncanny methods, Simon broke the hierarchical bond between him and his brother and only then did Simon achieve a greater sense of enlightenment. Simon achieved freedom from a manipulative and controlling brother, but for a price. In “A&P” Sammy achieves freedom but his motives could be defined a little differently than Simons’.
John Updike discusses the hierarchal break between an employee and an employer but unlike Simon, Sammy chooses to relinquish himself from his position in hopes of merely proving his self worth in the eyes of a girl.
“The Girls, who’d blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say “I quit” to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they’ll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero. They keep right on going, into the electric eye; the door flies open and they flicker across the lot to their car…leaving me with Lengel and a kink in his eyebrow.” (Updike)
Sammy purposely stood up to his manager in hopes of impressing a young girl that had no intentions of running away with or even ever speaking to Sammy again. Sammy’s pursuit of power and fame knowingly placed his family and him into an unfortunate situation as Lengel says “Sammy, you don’t want to do this to your Mom and Dad” but, Sammy’s desire for freedom was also driven by other motives. At the age of eighteen, Sammy had no intentions of spending the rest of his life hearing the monotonous beeping sound as boxes of HiHo crackers slides across the counter. His manager was a forty year old Sunday school teacher that consistently spends his boring old life within the bounds of walking from one side of the A&P to the other and had been doing it for years with zero hopes of ever achieving a higher status in life. His fellow cashier Stokesie, at the age of twenty-two and with two kids, was merely a representation of what Sammy would ultimately achieve in life if he continued to pursue a career within the A&P. Sammy chose to break the hierarchical bonds with his manager to impress three young girls and break away from the sadistic lifestyle at the A&P. Sammy reached a point of enlightenment when he walks outside to find no girls in bathing suits waiting on him but, only a long hard road. Sarty is forced to choose an even longer and harder rode in “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner.
Sarty is presented with the decision of following in his father’s foot steps or choosing to follow his conscious. Sarty must battle within himself to break the hierarchal father and son bond.
“You were fixing to tell them. You would of told them” He didn’t answer. His father struck him with the flat of his hand on the side of the head, hard but without heat, exactly as he had struck the two mules at the store…”Your getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you.” (Faulkner)
Faulkner writes on the hierarchal bonds between family and how important it is for an individual to follow blood. Sarty is forced with the decision of trusting his own father to distinguish from right to wrong or breaking away and choosing his own destiny to achieve a greater sense of enlightenment. Sarty is able to acquire his enlightenment after choosing to break the hierarchal father and son relationship from his power hungry father and Abner allows himself to lash out onto Sarty due to his own lack of power. The transference of anger from Abner is due to his own inability to have power over his own situation. Ever since the African Americans were released, Abner feels for him to achieve self worth he must treat his own family as though they are his slaves. Sarty must choose between his father treating him as a slave or living his own life. After warning Major Despain and ultimately allowing his own father and brother to be killed, Sarty walks away from his entire life with a greater sense of enlightenment “He did not look back.” Sammy said in “A&P” “But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it.” What was done was done and there was no turning back. Sarty found enlightenment through conflict. He was able to free himself from the hierarchal chains placed upon him by his father and achieve freedom.
Bailey, Dale. “Hunger: A Confession.” Hand out 286-296
Faulkner, William. Literature An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Writing. 10th. New York: Pearson, 2007.
Updike, John. Literature An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Writing. 10th. New York: Pearson, 2007.