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Literary analysis of short story - Research Paper Example

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On American Consumerism: An Analysis of John Updike’s A & P A surface reading of John Updike’s A & P reveals a story about a young man’s impulsive decision to quit his job at a supermarket, hoping it would attract the attention of girls who were publicly humiliated by their store manager…
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Literary analysis of short story
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Download file to see previous pages Readers see through Sammy’s eyes as he describes the scene around him in details – from referring the workplace as a “pinball machine” to labeling an attractive customer as “chunky”. From Sammy’s narration, a typical analysis of the story would be that it only “contains nothing more significant than a checking clerk's interest in three girls in bathing suits” (Peden, 1964). Another more sensible take would be that the story presents “a sudden moment of insight when a young man rebels against a conservative society” (Hatcher, 1996). However, beyond the usual understanding of A & P being a “coming of age narrative” is the analysis that John Updike’s masterpiece tells more about an individual’s struggle in a consumerist society. According to Porter (1972), the story A & P can be aptly interpreted as "the character’s rebellion against a consumer-conditioned society." To understand this idea, it is important to first devote our attention to the context of the story and then understand the symbolism behind the character’s language to reveal the author’s intention in creating an irony about the world around him. Since the story is published in the 1960’s, it gives us a picture of a conservative society where people adhere to traditional values and norms. In those days, conforming to the standard appearance and behavior was necessary, especially to middle class families who aspire for social equality through the American dream of typically owning a house, driving a car, and buying enough goods. Adding to this set-up is the industrial development which allowed grocery store chains like A & P to dominate and offer packaged consumer goods around the country. It is this typical middle-class setting in the 1960s which establishes the internal conflict of a young man against his society. In the story, the ultimate act of Sammy to quit his job represents non-conformity to a social structure that is based on commoditization of goods and perpetuation of conservative values. In Sammy’s words, the setting of the story points to an area “right in the middle of town” where “you can see two banks and the Congregational church and the newspaper store and three real-estate offices ". This description tells us about the narrator’s location in the central part of a consumerist society where a grocery store lies in the middle of the financial, spiritual, informational, and property structures. In the story, A & P is the focal area where packaged goods are made available for the consumption of every Americans. In grocery stores, all products are homogenized in order to meet the material demands of every consumer. As such, Sammy becomes part of this materialistic environment which deals with people purchasing goods and individuals finding meaning on things. Because of this, it is no surprise that the narrator himself is inclined to also objectify the things and people around him. At first, he describes the empty store as a “pinball machine” and searches for the girls show up, as if to find the objects of his attraction. Meanwhile, he labels other customers as “sheep” and describes a girl’s rear as a “can” which means that he compares people to things and animals. In Sammy’s eyes, people lose their humanity once they enter the confines of A & P. He sees the girls inside as mere sex objects, viewing them in the same way as customers choose their products. He judges the girls ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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