Society Versus “a & P, ” “a Rose for Emily, ” and “Miss Brill’s” Main Characters

Topics: Short story, John Updike, Fiction Pages: 5 (1701 words) Published: April 7, 2013
Society Versus “A & P,” “A Rose for Emily,” and “Miss Brill’s” Main Characters
The partaking of society is evident in many stories. Often society’s role is especially evident and plays a huge part in a story’s plot. In most situations, a rejection—whether by society or by the main characters themselves—occurs that typically results in complete isolation from the outside world. Such is seen with John Updike’s “A & P,” William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” and Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill,” as the main character is generally has a dispute with society in some way. By analyzing the main characters in these stories, one can come to a conclusion as to how the contrasting of society with the main character gives insight into a character’s thought process and assists in developing him or her.

Updike portrays Sammy, the main character in the short story “A & P” as a naïve boy of nineteen who views the people of society, i.e. his customers, as “sheep pushing their carts down the asle” (Updike 226). Part of the irony of the story is the contrast between the ending, where everything seems routine (including the customers), and the beginning, with Sammy’s impulsive decision. He quits his job (he says) in order to present himself as a “hero” to the swimsuit-clad girls who disrupt the usual pattern of the “sheep-like” customers. Sammy metaphorically describes his customers as animals, showing little respect towards them and depicting them as “sheep pushing their carts” and “scared pigs in a chute” (226, 228). In turn, he rejects society’s idea of normalcy and tries to escape it by quitting his job as a cashier at the A & P. As quoted by Corey Evan Thompson, “[Sammy is] a young man who takes full advantage of an opportunity to free himself from the responsibility-filled life that he desperately wants to avoid” (216). One could come to a conclusion that Sammy is portrayed somewhat as a rebel because of his wanting to break away from society and its “normal” behavior. As stated by another critic, “[Sammy] blames the customers of his A & P for being ‘houseslaves’ without any sensitivity to the misfortunes of literal or metaphoric slavery the epithet points to” (Dessner 316). When Queenie and her two friends show up at the store with only bathing suits on, Lengel, Sammy’s boss, chides the girls for their inappropriate attire. This not only mortifies the girls, but it also gives Sammy his long awaited excuse to escape the responsibilities of the real world by quitting his job. He knows he is probably making one of the biggest mistakes of his life, but continues, saying that “once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it” (Updike 228). In Sammy’s mind, he believes himself to be a hero to the girls, but in reality, he uses this excuse as a cover for his cowardly behavior of trying to escape society because of its rules and normalcy.

Another short story example where society and the main character seem to be at odds with one another is William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” After the death of her father, Emily Grierson isolates herself from all of society, never leaving her house. During the time that her father was alive, he never allowed her to have any sort of relations with a man. This irrational behavior of her father seems have somewhat of a domino effect on Emily’s behavior, causing her to go from rejecting men to all of society. Because of this and, “with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her [her father]…” (Faulkner 211). As a result, once it is time to bury her father, she turns away all of her neighbors “who would take him from her” (Scherting 400). Jack Scherting goes on to say that, “the people of Jefferson, in removing his corpse, had robbed her of the only man in her life” (401). In examining the effects of these events in the story, the reader can understand why Emily had isolated herself within the confines of her house and why she had completely rejected society until her...
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