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John Updike’s and Joyce Carol Oates’ Short Stories Essay

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Updated: Aug 18th, 2020

The experiences of adolescents are of great concern to such writers as John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates. This paper is aimed at examining two coming-of-age narratives, namely A&P by John Updike and Joyce Oates’ short story Where are You Going, Where Have You Been? The authors illustrate the emotional struggles of many adolescents. Much attention should be paid to the behavior of Sammy and Connie. They want to start their quest for independence; however, they immediately recognize that this quest can be accompanied by disappointment, frustration, and even danger. These are the key themes that should be examined more closely.

There are certain differences between these characters; in particular, Sammy is irritated with the tediousness of his work at the retail chain A&P. Moreover, he cannot accept the rules which govern his work environment. For instance, he does not agree with the manager named Lengel (Updike 96).

He scolds girls who come into A&P dressed only in bathing suits (Updike 96). In contrast, Connie’s difficulties can be explained by the fact that she resists the control of her mother. In Connie’s opinion, her mother continuously criticizes her for no good reason. Moreover, this girl cannot accept the idea that she is often compared with her sister June. For instance, Connie’s mother reminds her that her sister always keeps the room clean (Oates 25). This is one of the distinctions that should be taken into account. So, Sammy and Connie are driven by different motives.

Nevertheless, one should consider certain important similarities between the two characters. In particular, they want to take steps which can show that they are self-sufficient individuals. For instance, Connie chooses to go out with a man who she hardly knows. In contrast, Sammy decides to quit his job at A&P in order to highlight his disagreement with the policies of the management. To a great extent, these actions are supposed to signify their transition to adulthood. It does not occur to Sammy and Connie that such actions can harm them; in fact, these adolescents do not even want to consider the consequences of their behavior. Thus, both characters can act in an irrational way.

It is also important to determine the extent to which these characters are the products of their time. This argument is particular relevant if one speaks about Connie. In many cases, she accepts the standards of sexuality and gender norms incorporated in the popular culture (Oates 25). For instance, she does not understand why her sister June remains unmarried at the age of 24. In her view, June deviates from the established norms. Additionally, she focuses only on June’s physical appearances and disregards her character traits. So, she is very influenced by the popular culture to which she is exposed. This is why she mocks June. In contrast, Sammy tries to resist the influence of culture.

In particular, one should speak about his intolerance of consumer and corporate culture. This is why he uses many derogatory words and phrases in order to depict people who take this culture for granted. For instance, he frequently describes them as “sheep” (Updike 96). In this case, A&P story can be viewed as the most eloquent symbol of the consumer and corporate culture. The key problem is that Sammy cannot find a valid alternative to it. This is one of the differences that should be considered by the readers of these short stories.

Additionally, Sammie and Connie want to make heroic gestures that can highlight their ability to take independent decisions. To some degree, these gestures take form of the protest against the control and rules of adults. However, this behavior results in bitter disappointment. For instance, Sammy discovers that his decision to quit A&P is not appreciated by the girls whose dignity he tries to protect. They do not think that his actions merit much attention. This is one of the aspects that can be distinguished.

By focusing on this situation, John Updike illustrates the experiences of many teenagers. In turn, Connie wants to show that she no longer needs the control of her father. As a result, she finds herself in the company of a man who may abuse or even kill her. However, at the beginning, she does not want to consider the idea that Arnold Friend can be a threat to her. Thus, both characters are forced to accept the idea that their views on other people could be flawed. Moreover, they see that the quest for adulthood can be disappointing or even adulthood. This is one of the main similarities that should be taken account.

On the whole, Joyce Oates and John Updike give readers valuable insight into the drivers that influence the behavior of teenagers. The authors focus on their attempts to protest against the rules imposed by the adults. The main problem is that the main characters do not pay much attention to the consequences of their actions. Moreover, their heroic gestures lead to disappointment. Admittedly, Sammy and Connie have different values and attitudes, but they exemplify the feelings and desires of many adolescents.

Works Cited

Oates, Joyce. Where are You Going, where Have You Been?, New York: Rutgers University Press, 1994. Print.

Updike, John. “A&P.” Fiction: Reading, Reacting , Writing. Ed. Laurie Kirszner and Stephen Mandell. New York: Paulinas, 1993. 93-99. Print.

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IvyPanda. "John Updike's and Joyce Carol Oates' Short Stories." August 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/john-updikes-and-joyce-carol-oates-short-stories/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "John Updike's and Joyce Carol Oates' Short Stories." August 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/john-updikes-and-joyce-carol-oates-short-stories/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'John Updike's and Joyce Carol Oates' Short Stories'. 18 August.

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