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John Updike and Joyce Carol Oakes Stories – Literature Comparison Essay

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Updated: May 7th, 2020

The stories A & P by Updike and Where Are Your Going? Where Have You Been? by Oakes introduce the characters coming of age and searching for self-determination and independence. They strive to go beyond the established social norms and values and prove their superiority over the circumstances. Thus, Sammy, a nineteen-year-old boy, strives to attract the attention of the opposite sex by defending the girls at the store whereas Connie, a fifteen-year-old teenager, seeks to release herself from her family’s conservative view on the upbringing.

However, the characters’ aspirations to highlight their identity differ much in terms of the attitudes toward individuals surrounding them. In addition, both heroes are overwhelmed with the desire to be accepted in their social environments and, therefore, they resort to all means to become much more attractive by paying close attention to their physical appearance.

Social acceptance and recognition of the individual’s self are highly important for the characters because of their specific age. Both Sammy and Connie are teenagers who should think that no one understands their desires and dreams and, therefore, they confront this world independently. Hence, Sammy is full of confidence in people’s stereotypic thinking; he deliberates scornfully on people visiting the store because of her sure that “…you could set off dynamite in an A & P and … a few house slaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct” (Updike 457).

Similar to Sammy, Connie expresses her protest against her mother constantly talking about her elder sister’s achievements. In the story, Oakes notes, “Connie couldn’t do a thing, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams… ” (439). The heroine hates thinking about what is wrong or right because she does not want to be like her orthodox sister. Her appearance is everything that worries her because it makes her popular among her friends.

In the story, both heroes resort to any means to be recognized in the community. In this respect, Connie lives in her imaginary world; she is reluctant to observe the moral values established in her family. Rather, she considers that her physical attractiveness is the key to social recognition. However, her stereotypical and shallow thinking does not allow her to become aware of the potential dangers that surround her.

As soon as she confronts Arnold Friends, she understands that her vision of the world is illusionary and that the real values are those confined to her family. In the story, the author notes, “she cried for her mother, she felt her breath start jerking back and forth in her lungs as if it were something Arnold Friend was stabbing her with again and again” (Oakes 447). By appealing to her attractiveness and sexuality, she forgets about much more important values. Just like Connie, Sammy fails to distinguish between reality and illusion.

He lives in his own world and fails to acknowledge reality. Following the prejudiced stereotypes, he is overwhelmed with the power of desire. Sammy pays attention to unimportant details because it seems to him that “Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency” (459). Therefore, Sammy opposes the accepted norms in an attempt to attract the attention of the girls in the store.

Teenagers’ spirit rebellion is another occurring topic in the stories under analysis. The main characters are reluctant to adhere to their family’s rules and norms because they destroy their uniqueness and personality. In this respect, Connie searches for independence from her mother who always tells to act in accordance with morale and ethics. The heroine expresses her protest against the conservatism of her family. In the story, Oakes emphasizes, “Connie sat…dreaming and dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a king of love, the caresses of lover and her mind slipped over onto though of the boy she had been with the night before” (439).

In the pursuit of the illusionary world, the main character ignores the eternal values that each human should possess. In A & P, Sammy also fails to distinguish between genuine and false things. He feels like a hero by quitting the store. In fact, the girls in the story did not even notice that. Being overwhelmed with personal prejudices, Sammy fails to adequately evaluate the situation and, as a result, he becomes frustrated with reality.

In the stories under analysis, both Updike and Oakes highlight the urgent problems of the characters coming of age and facing the real world. Living in an illusionary world, both Sammy and Connie are obsessed with their personal problems. In particular, the main characters search for social acceptance and independence by following the rule of attraction.

However, at the end of the stories, they realize that appearances are deceptive and the life should not be guided by material principles. Rather, the spiritual world, as well as adherence to family norms and morale, is much more important than blind adherence to the prejudiced stereotypes. As a result, Connie and Sammy’s searching for self-identity fails as soon as they confront reality.

Works Cited

Oakes, Joyce Carol. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. Exploring Literature. Ed. Frank Madden, 436-447. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2004. Print.

Updike, John. “A & P”. Exploring Literature. Ed. Frank Madden, 456-460. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2004. Print.

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IvyPanda. "John Updike and Joyce Carol Oakes Stories - Literature Comparison." May 7, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/john-updike-and-joyce-carol-oakes-stories-literature-comparison/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "John Updike and Joyce Carol Oakes Stories - Literature Comparison." May 7, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/john-updike-and-joyce-carol-oakes-stories-literature-comparison/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'John Updike and Joyce Carol Oakes Stories - Literature Comparison'. 7 May.

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