Conformity and Individuality in a Small Town

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Conformity and Individuality in a Small Town John Updike was born in Shillington, Pennsylvania on March 18, 1932. His father was a high school math teacher who supported the entire family, including his grandparents on his mothers side. As a child, Updike wanted to become a cartoonist because of The New Yorker magazine. He wrote articles and poems and kept a journal. John was an exceptional student and received a full scholarship to Harvard University. At Harvard he majored in English and became the editor of the Harvard newspaper. Upon graduation in 1954, he wrote his first story, Friends from Philadelphia, and sent it to The New Yorker. This started his career and he became one of the great award winning authors of our time. In a transcript of a radio interview with Updike, he says his duties in the early works were to “describe reality as it had come to me, to give the mundane its beautiful due.” (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/july-dec03/updike_12-29.html retrieved 7/27/05) Updike felt as though ordinary middle-class life was enough to write about and that there was enough drama, interest, relevance, importance, poetry in it. The ‘A&P’ written by John is about middle and, presumed, upper middle class life and the characters are ones that people can easily identify with. There is the teenage boy, Sammy, working a meaningless job ogling scantily clad teenage girls, a married man with children, Stokesie, doing the same, an uptight store manager, Lengel, who, in this case, is a man but could have easily been a woman in today’s society, the insecure teenage girls, who Sammy nicknamed ‘Plaid’ and ‘Big Tall Goonie-Goonie, following around their “leader,” the leader herself, Queenie, who is confident in her socioeconomic status as well as her appearance, the housewives who cover themselves in public, the cash-register-watcher, the ’sheep’ or the other people in the A&P doing their grocery shopping, and the butcher, McMahon. All of these characters allow any reader to identify with them in some way, whether past or present. The story takes place on a summer afternoon in an eastern coastal town at a local grocery store, the A & P. The protagonist is Sammy; is a teenaged boy who works at the A&P. Sammy is also the narrator of the story, the reader sees through his ey... ... middle of paper ... ...have given boys a hard time? Would the boys have had real names? These are questions for every reader to decide for themselves. Annotated Bibliography Porter, M. Gilbert.: "John Updike's 'A & P': the establishment and an Emersonian cashier." English Journal 61 (1972):1155-1158. Reinforces Sammy’s discust for the A&P clientele. At the same time, Sammy realizes he is an individual with individual thoughts and feelings that do not conform with the moral, social and ethical standards of that time. Saldivar, Toni. "The Art of John Updike's 'A & P.’” Studies in Short Fiction. 34:2 (1997): 215-225. This demonstrates Sammy’s desire to express his individuality and rebel against the conformity of society at that time and the A&P’s representation of that conformity. Wells, Walter. "John Updike's 'A & P': A Return Visit to Araby." Studies in Short Fiction 30.2 (1993): 127-133. Demonstrates the maturity process of Sammy. Confusing sexual impulses for being a ‘hero.’ Sammy thinks he is impressing the girls, but they don’t even notice. Reinforces the individuality/conformity themes.

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