Araby and A&P
People have different experiences as they move from the age of innocence to when they first have their real sexual encounter. This encounter does not necessarily have to be physical, but it can be the realization of inner sexual emotions. In many cases, the moment occurs when a person is attracted to another for sexual reasons. Nowadays, children become aware of these emotions at an early age, especially due to media exposure and the willingness of parents to discuss the issue. In earlier times, children explored their sexuality in their teens. Some did not have the courage needed to approach the person they were attracted to, and they chose to keep their feelings hidden. This was the case with Sammy in A&P and the narrator in Araby. It is obvious that the two boys were innocent in matters of romance. Although they did not have the courage to share their emotions with the people they were attracted to, they did move from a period of innocence, to one of maturity.
A&P tells the story of Sammy who works in a grocery store. He is tired of working there and seeing the same people everyday. He is therefore pleasantly surprised when one day, three girls who are only wearing bathing suits walk in the store. This does not happen frequently in the town, since it is about five miles from the beach. Sammy is especially captivated by one of the girls, who he ends up naming queen. At the first encounter, Sammy dwells on the girls’ physical appearance, and he takes the time to note how each of the girls look. After a while, he focuses on other things, such as the effect the girls have on the other people in the store. He notes how different people react to the girls. This is especially evident when he notices the reaction that the girls have on the butcher.
Sammy notices how the butcher patted his mouth after looking at the girls and sizing up their joints (Saldivar, 1997). He goes ahead to say that he pitied the girls after this since they could not help it. The narrator in Araby, tells of his first encounter with his love. He narrates how he has observed her for a long time and how he constantly thinks about her. He also tells of the first time that she talked to her, and the excitement he felt thereafter. As the two of them are talking, he tells her that he will bring her something from the bazaar. He is willing to do this, and he even goes to the bazaar when it is closing.
Sammy and the narrator in both stories illustrate how they are innocent in matters of love and romance. They show how they have not developed their sexuality, and this is seen in their actions and in their speech. The narrator does not have the courage to talk to the girl although he sees her everyday. He goes to great lengths for her to notice him, to the point that he knows her daily routine. Sammy sees the three girls enter the grocery store, and he watches them as they move .from place to place. He does not have the courage to talk to them, although it is clear that he would want to do that. Sammy is older than the narrator in Araby, but it is clear that they both have similar emotions. By narrating the story in the first person, the reader gets to understand Sammy’s perspective on the issue.
The narrator is shy and in love. He thinks of the girl constantly, regardless of the place or time. He even admits to himself that he thinks of her in the most unlikely places, such as when he is in the market with his aunt. He watches her while he is playing and when he is outside. He follows her when they are going to a similar direction, and he seeks ways for her to notice him. The love he feels for her confuses him, that he sometimes sheds tears for no reason. When the priest dies, the narrator goes into the room where his body was found and he calls out for love. The narrator takes the time to observe the girl’s physical attributes. He talks of her white neck, the soft rope of her hair and the movement of her body. Religion is a major part of the narrator’s life and he uses different elements of religion when he is describing the girl.
The narrator connects his sexuality with religion (Spack 20). This seems to be the usual thing to do in that society. For instance, in the beginning of the story, the narrator talks of the books that the priest left behind. One of the books mentioned is “The Abbot”’ although the book has a religious title, it is actually a romance. He also mentions “The Memoirs of Vidocq”, a book full of sexual content (Spack 19). One would not expect a priest to read such books since he is supposed to be the model of religion and morality in the society. Reference to religion occurs when for instance, he tells of how he mentions the girl’s name when he is praying and praising. It is interesting that he mentions her name at that moment yet he does not reveal the girl’s name in the story; he refers to her as Mangan’s sister. He also talks of “the shrill litanies of shop-boys” (Spack 22), chalice, chants and images, all referring to religious themes.
The narrator compares the girl using images that he knows. As he puts it, “My body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires” (Joyce and Dettmar 251). The narrator and Sammy are surprised when they hear the girl’s voices. The narrator is surprised and excited when Mangan’s sister talks to him. He seems unaware of her seduction and he is attentive to what she is saying. This increases his sexual fantasies and he cannot seem to wait for when the day of the bazaar finally reaches. Sammy is surprised when he hears the girls speak. He is surprised at Queenie’s flat and somewhat dumb voice. His innocence is once again seen when he sees where the girl gets the money. He had wondered where the girl kept her money, seeing as she was only wearing a bathing suit and she was barefoot. He is mesmerized and captivated when he sees the girl remove the money “out of the hollow at the center of her nubbled pink top” (Kirszner and Mandell 95).
It is clear that both protagonists are experiencing their first moments of love. Sammy has not spent a lot of time with the girls. He cannot claim to have any relationship with them, as he has just had his first encounter. He however wants the girls to have a good impression of him and he is willing to do anything at that point. He refers to one of the girls as queen. She is the focus of his attention and to him she is a symbol of duty. He sees himself as her knight in shining armor, one who will rescue her in the midst of trouble.
In the story “A&P”, the girls do not seem to understand what the big deal about their dressing is all about, since as they put it, they are decently dressed. They are obviously aware of the generous stares they are getting from the men in the grocery store. They do not understand why Lengel, the manager of the store, reprimands them for wearing bathing suits while it is Queenie’s mother, who had given them permission to go to the store dressed like that. The girl’s innocence is brought out in this scene. While they are aware that they are attracting attention, they do not realize the sexual emotions they are evoking from the men.
Sammy’s innocence is once again demonstrated in his description of the girl. For instance, he refers to Queenie’s breasts as “scoops of vanilla ice-cream” (Saldivar, 1997). He can only compare them to something he is familiar with and something that is common to everybody. Sammy takes a keen interest on the girls’ physical beauty. He takes a long time staring at the girls and he gives a vivid description of the leader. For instance, he notices that the straps on the queen’s bathing suit “were off her shoulders looped loose around the cool tops of her arm” (Saldivar, 1997). Sammy seems to be of the idea that sexual fantasies belong to people of a certain age. He reprimands the butcher and seems disgusted at his actions when he sees his reaction to the girls yet he does not seem to find it unusual when he and Stokesie do the same thing.
In both stories, the protagonists end up regretting their actions. Sammy realizes that the decision he had made was foolish. He tells Lengel that he has quit his job, hoping that the girls will hear and acknowledge his support. Unfortunately, the girls are less concerned about him. Like Mangan’s sister, they are unaware of Sammy’s infatuation for them. The narrator realizes that Mangan’s sister is not aware of his love after his visit to the bazaar. He had wasted his time going to the bazaar at night so that he would buy the girl a present. He realized what he had done when he found many of the stores in the bazaar closed, and the woman who was there was not interested in serving him. As he says, “gazing up into the darkness, I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity, and my eyes burned with anguish and anger (Joyce and Dettmar 254).” He was angry with himself for having wasted his time fantasizing about a girl who was not aware of him.
The narrator was much younger than Sammy was when he realized the crush he had for the girl. He therefore did not use intimate details to describe the girls’ physical appearance, as Sammy had done. Regardless of the age difference, the two young men realized the mistake they had committed for being in love and letting their sexual emotions direct them. Sammy was educated after the encounter with the three girls. Through the brief encounter at the store, Sammy was able to get rid of his ignorance and innocence by observing the three girls. The girls gave him the opportunity he had been yearning for and he was able to quit the store. The narrator also benefited from his encounter with the girl. Once the girl talked to him, he got the opportunity and the desire to go to the bazaar, and it was while he was there that he was able to see things as they were and he was no longer an innocent boy.
Joyce, James and Dettmar Kevin. A portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners. New York, NY: Spark Educational Publishing, 2004. Print
Kikrszner, Laurie and Mandell Stephen. Fiction: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Fort Worth, TX: Paulinas, 1994. Print
Saldivar, Toni. The Art of John Updike’s “A & P”. 1997. Web. 11 October 2011
Spack, Ruth. Instructor’s Manual to Accompany the International Story: Anthology with Guidelines for Reading and Writing about Fiction. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print
Updike, John. A & P: Lust in the Aisles. United Kingdom: Redpath Press, 1986. Print