Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates, and A&P by John Updike are both short stories that explore the subject of rebellion. The key conflict in Oates’ text is between Connie’s freedom to explore her beauty and sexuality and the views of people around her. Connie’s family openly criticizes her for being too self-centered, and her mother is the key opposing force: “Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn’t much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it.” A&P, similarly, presents a conflict between an individual and society, but on a different matter.
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What starts as a shop clerk gawking at three beautiful girls in bathing suits ends with Sammy leaving his job in protest: “I pull the bow at the back of my apron and start shrugging it off my shoulders.” Throughout the text, the narrator compares customers to either “sheep” or “pigs,” implying that the underlying conflict is between a person and the culture of consumerism.
In both stories, the main conflicts are somewhat shadowed by the character’s desire for appreciation. For example, Connie uses her beauty to attract boys, even if she does not have romantic feelings towards them: “It made them feel good to be able to ignore him.” For Sammy, the act of quitting his job seems heroic, and he wishes for the three girls to notice and appreciate it “I say ‘I quit’ to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they’ll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero.” This aspect undermines the central conflict by making it apparent that both characters only rebel against one part of society and still want the support of the rest.
The character development that occurs in the two stories has both similarities and differences. This is mainly because Connie’s development is not stable, and she lets go of her fears after receiving compliments. Up until the end, Connie’s development is in realizing the dangerous nature of the life she chooses to leave and refuse attention that she desires in favor of safety and stability. Upon seeing Arnold for the first time, Connie is excited: “Connie slit her eyes at him and turned away, but she couldn’t help glancing back, and there he was, still watching her.” However, when she realizes that he is much older than he said he was and that he had been stalking her, she becomes afraid: “at this knowledge, her heart began to pound faster.”
Arnold continues trying to lure Connie into the car and even threatens her family. Nevertheless, Connie succumbs after he implies that it is the only possible scenario for such a pretty girl: “Be nice to me, be sweet like you can because what else is there for a girl like you but to be sweet and pretty and give in?” This part can be interpreted as Connie’s acceptance of the life she chose and the danger it entails, as well as the fear of losing that life forever.
In A&P, the main character’s development is somewhat simpler because Sammy changes from merely an interested observer into a rebel against the system. For the vast part of the text, Sammy does not interfere with the events, watching the girls and their encounter with the manager silently instead. He steps in only after the girls start to leave: “You didn’t have to embarrass them.” Sammy is resolved to quit for the entire scene, and he does not give in to the manager trying to make him stay.
This makes Sammy’s development more linear and allows to interpret the author’s intentions easily. Hence, both works have similarities and differences that help authors to convey the meaning.
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