"Araby" by James Joyce and "A & P" by John Updike are two stories which, in spite of their many differences, have much in common. In both of these initiation stories, the protagonists move from one stage of life to another and encounter disillusionment along the way. Looking back upon his boyhood in Irish Catholic Dublin in the early 1900's, the narrator of "Araby"gives an account of his first failed love. Captivated by Mangan's older sister, the boy promises to bring her a gift from a bazaar that wears the mystical name of Araby. Sammy, a nineteen-year-old cashier at the local A & P in an unnamed coastal town north of Boston, narrates "A & P." Like Joyce's boy, Sammy also attempts to win the attention of a beautiful girl by making a chivalric gesture. In both cases, romance gives way to reality, and conflict occurs when the protagonist finds himself in discord with the values of the society in which he lives. Joyce's "Araby" and Updike's "A & P" are initiation stories in which the adolescent protagonist comes into conflict with his culture.
Both protagonists live in restrictive cultures. The narrator of "Araby" portrays the Dublin that he grew up in as grim and oppressed by Catholicism. He begins his story with a description of North Richmond Street, where the somber houses wear "brown imperturbable faces" and seem "conscious of the decent lives within them" (Joyce 728). In this description, Joyce links decency and a stifled life together. Filled with "cold empty gloomy rooms," the house where the boy resides reminds the reader of a tomb (729). A priest died in the back drawing room, and "air, musty from having been long enclosed," is associated with books...
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...his infatuation and illusions? Chivalry has failed, both for Joyce's boy and for Sammy. Their efforts seem wasted, for their gallant gestures go unseen. However, Sammy's story leaves the reader hopeful. His fate has not yet been decided. Sammy loses his job but gains the title of "unsuspected hero" (737). He claims his right to be an individual in a puritanical, conservative, and uncompromising culture. In Joyce's "Araby" and Updike's "A & P," two boys replace their ideas of chivalry with modern-life realism and inch their way closer to manhood.
Joyce, James. "Araby." Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. Eds. John Clifford and John Schilb. Boston: Bedford, 1999. 728-32.
Updike, John. "A & P." Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. Eds. John Clifford and John Schilb. Boston: Bedford, 1999. 733-37.
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