John Updike’s A & P, Richard Wright’s The Man Who Was Almost a Man, and James Joyce’s Araby
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John Updike’s “A & P,” Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost a Man,” and James Joyce’s “Araby”
Stories about youth and the transition from that stage of life into adulthood form a very solidly populated segment of literature. In three such stories, John Updike’s “A & P,” Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost a Man,” and James Joyce’s “Araby”, young men face their transitions into adulthood. Each of these boys faces a different element of youth that requires a fundamental shift in their attitudes. Sammy, in “A&P”, must make a moral decision about his associations with adult institutions that mistreat others. Dave, in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man,” struggles with the idea that what defines a man is physical power. The narrator of “Araby,” struggles with the mistaken belief that the world can be easily categorized and kept within only one limited framework of thought. Each of these stories gives us a surprise ending, a view of ourselves as young people, and a confirmation that the fears of youth are but the foundation of our adulthood.
John Updike's short story “A&P,” centers on a young immature and morally ambitious teenager who faces down the generation gap and, rather than bending to the dictates of the elders, rebels against them, securing his rather insecure place as a young, unproven man. Sammy, the main character, describes the entrance of a group of young attractive girls into the supermarket, “In walk these three girls in nothing but bathing suits…They didn’t even have shoes on”.(864) Sammy is mesmerized by their presence that he cannot do his job. The supermarket manager, Lengel, scolds the visitors by exclaiming “Girls, this isn’t the beach”.(867) Within the few moments after Sammy dramatically quits his job in protest of the quite impolite treatment by Lengel he says to himself “…and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter”.(869) Because of his youth, and certainly because of the extremes of behavior that the young are prone to demonstrate, Sammy perceives that his life will forever be damaged by his actions. Though we certainly understand that this is not the case, that no one’s life is inexorably ‘ruined’ by the decision to do something momentous, it is certainly quite charming to transport ourselves into a time in our lives when such passions ruled us. This image awakens in us the expect...
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...the future to see that his life is not ruined by acts of immaturity. And, in “Araby”, we encounter another young man facing a crisis of the spirit who attempts to find a very limiting connection between his religious and his physical and emotional passions. In all of these stories, we encounter boys in the cusp of burgeoning manhood. What we are left with, in each, is the understanding that even if they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, we can. These stories bind all of us together in their universal messages…youth is something we get over, eventually, and in our own ways, but we cannot help get over it.
Joyce, James. “Araby”. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Eds. R.V. Cassill and Richard Bausch. Shorter Sixth Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2000. 427 - 431.
Updike, John. “A&P”. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Eds. R.V. Cassill and Richard Bausch. Shorter Sixth Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2000. 864 - 869.
Wright, Richard. “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction.
Eds. R.V. Cassill and Richard Bausch. Shorter Sixth Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2000. 923 - 932.