Paper Number And Draft Essay
Journey into Manhood
In every boys childhood there are experiences that mark their journey into manhood. John Updike and James Joyce have both written short stories that embody some of the angst of being a boy on that journey into adulthood. Joyce’s “Araby” and Updike’s “A&P” take place in very different settings. Despite these differences, both stories still share many similarities, with both boys having to realize some harsh realities on their way to their destination of adulthood. The protagonists both come from different classes, and had different viewpoints of their worlds; and yet they both end up learning valuable lessons in the end.
The most obvious difference between the protagonists is their class. Sammy, the protagonist in “A&P”, clearly describes a middle class environment saying, “our town is five miles from a beach, with a big summer colony out on the Point, but we're right in the middle of town, and the women generally put on a shirt or shorts or something before they get out of the carAnd anyway these are usually women with six children” (Abcarian, Klotz, and Cohen 10). Recognizing the middle class that Sammy describes, M. Gilbert Porter says of the A&P store, “It is the common denominator of middle-class suburbia” (1). The A&P store served the community much like Walmart does today. People went to shop, run into people they know, and compare themselves to those around them. Sammy is solidly middle class, and surrounded by those in the middle class. While the boy in “Aramy” is excited about a bazaar, Sammy would not experience the same excitement because he was used to being able to take part in whatever was going on around him.
On the other hand, the boy from “Araby” describes his home as a poor one, “Air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung in all the rooms, and the waste room behind the kitchen was littered with old useless papersThe wild garden behind the house contained a central apple-tree and a few straggling bushes” (Abcarian, Klotz, and Cohen 10). Although the boy recalls playing with the neighborhood children, it is obvious he is not used to the niceties that Sammy is used to. Every penny he has is a big deal to him. Also, his excitement about the bazaar could be partially attributed to being able to go to something different than what his normal experiences were. His class may also have contributed to his lively imagination. He may have built things up to be more than they were in order to escape the mundane life he was drudging through.
Another difference between the boys is their life viewpoint. Sammy has a very realistic outlook on the girls he sees. He does not hold them on any kind of pedestal, and describes their looks realistically, saying “They didn't even have shoes on. There was this chunky one, with the two-piece -- it was bright green and the seams on the bra were still sharp and her belly was still pretty pale so I guessed she just got it (the suit)” (Abcarian, Klotz, and Cohen 10). His observations of the other girls were no more flattering. He described one as having “one of those chubby berry-faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose” (Abcarian, Klotz, and Cohen 10), and the other as having “black hair that hadn't quite frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long” (Abcarian, Klotz, and Cohen 10). Although the girls had pretty aspects to them, he did not hold back on noticing them for their beauty and their flaws.
In contrast, the boy in “Aramy” views Mangan’s sister very highly, to an extreme she could never live up to:
“Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romanceI imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosomBut my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.” (Abcarian, Klotz, and Cohen 10).
The boy had built Mangan’s sister up to a point where he was having bodily reactions, such as unintended tears, when thinking of her. His inflated opinion of her is entirely unrealistic, and is not one that could be maintained. It is a striking contrast to the realism Sammy uses to describe the girls coming into the A&P store. The boy also builds Araby up in his head, thinking to himself that he, “wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days.At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read. The syllables of the word Araby were called to me” (Abcarian, Klotz, and Cohen 10). His imagination is running wild, and he does nothing to reign it in. It is through the veil of his imagination he views the world around him, instead of the cool realism which Sammy views the world in.
Both boys also end up learning life lessons in these stories. Although Sammy may have quit the A&P partially out of a sense of moral indignation, he also did so to impress the girls in the store. In relation to Sammy’s decision to quit, his boss says, “‘Sammy, you don't want to do this to your Mom and Dad,’ he tells me.” (Abcarian, Klotz, and Cohen 10). Despite the fact that what Sammy’s boss said was true, Sammy feels that, “once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it.” (Abcarian, Klotz, and Cohen 10). Sammy allows his own stubbornness and pride to cause him to continue with his plan to quit. Once again, Sammy’s boss tries to talk him out of it. “‘You'll feel this for the rest of your life,’ Lengel says”. (Abcarian, Klotz, and Cohen 10). Although Sammy agrees with Lengel’s statement, he still chooses to quit because he was, “remembering how he [Lengel] made that pretty girl blush” (Abcarian, Klotz, and Cohen 10). Sammy tries to catch up to the girls, but they are gone. He traded a job, the respect of his employer, and the respect of his parents to be a hero to girls who didn’t care. He realizes what a big mistake he has made, and how it is going to affect him for the rest of his life.
While Sammy’s lesson was a very adult one to learn, the boy in “Aramy” learned a sad lesson. Just like the boy built up expectations of Mangan’s sister in his imagination, he built up expectations of going to Araby. These were dashed upon his arrival. “I found myself in a big hall girded at half its height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the hall was in darkness.” (Abcarian, Klotz, and Cohen 10). This is completely different from what the boy expected to find. Even though he left late, he expected it to be a large amount of people with bright lights and a lot of fun. He also expected to be able to find a perfect gift for Mangan’s sister. Speaking of the boy in Joyce’s work, Nicholas Fargnoli and Michael Patrick Gillepsie say “Is he crestfallen because he realizes how foolish he had been to inflate the significance of his trip to Araby, or does he feel a deeper, more lasting disappointment over the deceptive power of an incautious imagination?” (52). It is at this time the boy draws a parallel between the bazaar and his feelings for Mangan’s sister. He realizes he has done to her what he did to the bazaar, by building in his a head a person that does not exist and who she could never live up to. No matter how one looks at it, the boy learned a powerful lesson about the importance of controlling ones imagination. The lesson is sad, because the boy had kept himself going on dreams. Now he had his dreams dashed, and reality hit, causing him to lose the ability to dream. His ability to escape the life he lived had been stripped from him.
Although Sammy and the unnamed boy have different life viewpoints and classes, they have very similar stories. Both boys are on their journey to manhood, and have hard lessons they learn. Sammy is obviously older, and had already left his childhood imagination behind, so is on a further part of his journey than the boy in “Aramy”. While Sammy is older and more mature in his outlook and actions, the boy in “Aramy” is still very young and inexperienced. That does not make the lesson Sammy learns any less important, but does change the nature of his lesson. Sammy’s lesson will still allow him to bounce back in life. The boy learns a lesson that shakes the very foundation of how he will view the world for the rest of his life. In essence, he becomes more like Sammy and views the world more realistically in the end. Despite the boy’s differences, in the end of the stories neither boy will ever be the same again.
Abcarian, Richard, Marvin Klotz, and Samuel Cohen. Literature: The Human Experience. N.p.: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012. 1-5, 10-15. Print.
Fargnoli, A. Nicholas., and Michael Patrick Gillespie. Critical Companion to James Joyce: A Literary Reference to His Life and Works. New York: Facts on File, 2006. Print.
Porter, M. Gilbert. "John Updike's "A&P": The Establishment and an Emersonian Cashier." The English Journal 61.8 (1972): 1. Print.
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