Good Essay On Youth Culture: Defiance Against Norms
The teen-age years are often cited as the most turbulent years of a person’s life. Caught between childhood and adulthood, teenagers go through a period of confusion, restlessness and emotional instability as they go through a period that is “suspended between a ‘no longer’ and ‘not yet,’ youth is forced to balance continuity and discontinuity” (Crapps 177). New world, new feelings and new expectations – all these create pressure and unease that often force young people to be defiant. John Updike’s short story A&P written in 1961 and first published in the New Yorker (Werlock 1) aptly mirrors this. A&P is replete with characters that typify the youthful rebelliousness and general defiance. Thus, a scantily clad female teen-age character drags her two companions from the beach to the supermarket in the middle of an old conservative town. On the other hand, a male teen-age character recklessly resigns from his job to dramatically assert his objection against injustice, real, imagined or exaggerated, even though there is no other prospect of employment in the horizon for him. Updike intends A&P to present youth as a period of recklessness and rebelliousness, and illustrate on the side, that the freedom to do and be so is a privilege of youth.
SAMMY AND ‘QUEENIE’: REBELS WITHOUT A CAUSE
In entering the supermarket in the middle of the town wearing only the skimpy clothing of beachwear, ‘Queenie’ and her gang are evidently openly defying society. Walking with feigned confidence into the supermarket, the straps of her swimsuit pulled down off her shoulders and her uncertain companions in tow (Updike 201), ‘Queenie’ is deliberately risking public censure. Yet, ‘Queenie’ with her prim face, is not flirty, but simply defiant. Her defiance is mirrored by her posture – “She held her head so high her neck, coming up out of those white shoulders, looked kind of stretched” (Updike 202). Considering that this incident happened in some remote town whose amenities include only two banks, a Congregational Church, and a newspaper store (Updike 201), it is apparent that the townspeople would find the girls’ attire as shocking, to say the least.
Deliberately defying society takes courage however pointless it could be. The lack of experience and, thus, wisdom often lead the youth to a culture of disengagement “that is not always or explicitly anti-adult, but it is belligerently anti-adult” (Crapp 178). Putting on some shirts and shorts is not too big a trouble and Queenie and the two girls could just have done that to avoid the discomfiting situation, but Queenie’s belligerence pushes her to mask her discomfiture with indifference. When Lengel, the manager, confronts them near the end of the story and calls their attention to their ‘inappropriate’ attire, ‘Queenie’ blushes (Updike 203). Queenie’s indifference to the stares and the ogling from the townspeople, thus, turns out to be only feigned indifference. Yet, not all people can do a Queenie or have the imagination to do so. Lengel illustrates this. When he sees the girls in their skimpy swimsuits he immediately admonishes them and tells them that their attire is inappropriate because the supermarket is not the beach (Updike 1961). Clearly, Lengel, who is a Sunday school teacher on the side, believes that such behavior inside his supermarket is not acceptable and it was his responsibility to stop such behavior. After all, he has to be consistent with his reputation and his role in the community.
Such streak of youthful rebelliousness is also illustrated by Sammy, the narrator of the short story. Like any other hot-blooded young teen-ager, Sammy is attracted to ‘Queenie.’ This, however, leads him to make a decision that he later regrets. When Lengel admonishes Queenie and her friends, Sammy, who wants to impress ‘Queenie,’ quits his job as an objection to Lengel’s action against the girls. Unfortunately for him, ‘Queenie’ is not within earshot as she is exiting the supermarket with her friends. His youthful pride prevents Sammy from stopping himself and he pursues the path he has initiated. At this juncture, Sammy shows the recklessness often attributed to the youth, aptly mirrored by his thoughts: “But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it” (Updike 1961). Yet, this also exemplifies boldness that no adult who understands the impact of the action could duplicate or would want to duplicate. Adults, like Lengel, will not dare resort to this course of action because of the baggage they carry – their families who will starve if they lose their jobs and the reputation they have managed to chalk up in the community.
Although Updike’s A&P presents youth as reckless and rebellious - most times without a cause - it also presents them as bold and daring. The transition from childhood to adulthood can bring about many insecurities and confusion. The youth often handle these problems with reckless defiance and general belligerence. Despite the often pointlessness of such defiance, it shows a spirit of courage and boldness that even adults would find difficult to match. This is because defiance is a privilege that chiefly belongs to the youth. Without much responsibility and baggage to carry, Sammy and ‘Queenie’ can almost do what they like. This cannot be said of Lengel and Sammy’s friend Stokesie. These adults have families and responsibility in the community and as such, their actions and decisions have to be more deliberate limiting their choices to the expected norms.
Crapps, Robert. An Introduction to Psychology of Religion. Mercer University Press, 1986.
Updike, John. “A&P.” Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. Bedford/St. Martin's. 2011. 201-205. Print.
Werlock, Abby. Companion to Literature: Facts on File Companion to the American Short Story. Infobase Publishing. 2009. Print.