John Updike’s A&P and James Joyce’s Araby were born out of close contexts. In fact, both writers are being tagged with a similar designation. Both are believed to be modernist writers.
They are read side by side the modern temper – the rise of industrialization, the attenuation of man’s substance and the meaning of his world and the dominance of several routines which stapled itself on man’s life and reduce his essence.
As we look at A&P and Araby, we can confirm that they both uphold the modern temper, as they both mark pointed facets of this period – the apparent inability to rise from one’s circumstances and the extent by which these circumstances govern us.
In A&P, Sammy resigned on his job after he felt like his boss in the shopping store humiliated the girls who wore bathing suits in the store. Ultimately, he felt obliged to stand up for his gesture of quitting and not turn away from it. He stood up for his decision and even though the future has suddenly looked uncertain for him, he kept on going, knowing that he can no longer revert from his action.
Meanwhile, in Araby, a young boy was eaten up by his frustration after he failed to purchase something for the girl he felt infatuated for. He was late in going to the bazaar – or the araby – as he had to wait for his uncle from whom the money he needs will come from.
Upon reaching the bazaar, he saw that most of the stalls were already closed and he can no longer fulfill his promise of buying something for the apple of his eye. In the end, he was utterly frustrated and he seemed inert as that feeling gobbled his whole self.
Having these two texts at hand, we can find a common theme that is both incorporated in both of them. We can see in these stories how the characters were carried away and frustrated by their circumstances. The concept of the circumstantial forces impinging themselves on human beings and molding the form of their lives is visible in both Updike’s A&P and Joyce’s Araby.
The only difference between the two stories in terms of that theme is the way the characters have responded to that force of circumstances.
In A&P the entrance of the “scandalously dressed” ladies created a commotion inside the A&P – a convenience store that is open to the public. The commotion was caused by the fact that the ladies were inappropriately dressed. The store was located on the town – right at the very heart of the city. Evidently, the store was located in a public place.
The ladies were wearing clothes as if they are by themselves only and not exposed to many people. One wears a plaid two-piece in green while another wears an off-shoulder bathing suit. The incompatibility of these two elements signals the emergence of the idea that the ladies were swerving from the norm and a necessary action must be done to check what they were doing.
This action was made by the manager of the store, Lengel. With all grit and strictness, he accosted the ladies and gave them some serious verbal beating. He established his authority to scold the girls and show to them his disapproval of their deportment and his implication that they leave the store: “Girls, this isn’t the beach.” (Hart 134).
Queenie, the head of the ladies tried to argue for their case against the overture made by the manager but she failed. Lengel did not turned out to be gentle and a pushover. He really intended to assert his position and drive the ladies away –which he actually did.