Essay on John Updike’s Portrayal of Individualism vs. Conformity in Society

Essay on John Updike’s Portrayal of Individualism vs. Conformity in Society

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A society consists of a community of people living together and sharing customs and traditions. Once immersed in this society, one can begin to see certain standards woven into the social fabric of the community. These standards, ranging from not walking into public areas scantily clad to not embarrassing people in front of others, are usually unspoken and sometimes cause strife. Young adults often find these standards to be extremely restricting and favor freedom of action over the collective control. Commonly known as individualism, this social theory is very alive in the hearts and actions of young adults and never quite leaves a human as he or she grows older and “matures.” In middle class, Protestant America individualism is subverted in favor of traditional societal standards and customs. Protestant America happens to be the setting of three stories written by author John Updike. An examination of these short stories reveals that John Updike incorporates the struggles young adults experience as they attempt to hold on to their individualism and to protest as well as to question the fact that society's standards are out of focus.
The first short story in which Updike delineates the conflict of individualism and societal standards is “A & P.” Set in an A & P grocery store, the story follows the struggle of a young man named Sammy who spits on the standards of a grocery store in a seaside town and turns instead to his newfound individual freedom (Porter, 320). Initially Sammy observes the behaviors of people in the store. “They just want to get along, follow the cart in front of them up and down the aisles without incident... It is as if they are praying, “Get me through life without incident, Lord. Let me feel no pain and,...


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Updike, John. “A&P.” The Early Stories 1953-1975. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. 596-601. Print.
Updike, John, and John Updike. “Lifeguard.” The Early Stories 1953-1975. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. 602-607. Print.
Updike, John, John Updike, and John Updike. “Nakedness.” The Early Stories 1953-1975. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. 389-394. Print.
Wells, Walter. “John Updike’s ‘A & P’: A Return Visit to Araby.” Studies in Short Fiction Spring 1993: 127-33. Rpt. in Short Stories for Students. Ed. Kathleen Wilson. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 1-21. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 30 Mar. 2010. .

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