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Comparing "Girl" and "A&P"

By vrp25 Jul 07, 2005 1237 Words
Within every story or poem, there is always an interpretation made by the reader whether right or wrong. In doing so, one must thoughtfully analyze all aspects of the story in order to make the most accurate assessment based on the literary elements the author has used. Compared and contrasted within the two short stories, "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid, and John Updike's "A&P," the literary elements character and theme are made evident. These two elements are prominent in each of the differing stories yet similarities are found through each by studying the elements. The girls' innocence and naivety as characters act as passages to show something superior, oppression in society shown towards women that is not equally shown towards men.

In each short story the character(s) the author highlights are young girls. This is first evident in the title alone in "Girl" where the title already gives the impression of a universally known stereotype as being young, and naïve. Although the title "A&P" does not suggest the same implication, within the story the reader learns quickly that the girls described in the story are in fact young, and innocent and lacking instruction just as the character in "Girl." Understanding the characters is important because it sheds light on the reasons why they do what they do, and give reason to the plot. In which case, the characters even become the plot, such as the two short stories referenced. The girls described by Sammy in "A&P," consume much of the story just by description, making it unmistakable their character. "...And then the third one, that wasn't quite so tall. She was the queen. She kind of led them..." (Updike). Momentarily the reader is able to develop an image of these girls because everybody, young or old, most probably has been witness to this type of entourage throughout middle/high school. The girl being referred to by Sammy, Queenie, is oblivious to the fact she is stirring up the scene in the store, showing her naivety. Similarly, in "Girl" the fact that the young girl is being given instructions on how to behave as an adolescent girl by her mother, is reason to believe she is so inexperienced that her mother felt the instructions were necessary. The girls both have not realized the expectations society has upon the female population, nor the consequences that come from acting unladylike.

What's different with the two characters is the mother-daughter relationship. In "Girl," the mother realizes the possibility her daughter, like any other, could fall victim to act "like the slut you are so bent on becoming," (Kincaid), where it seems Queenie's mother, who sent them to the store in the first place, did not show concern when the girls left the house in their bathing suits, Queenie's straps falling off her shoulders and all. Furthermore, the mother in "Girl" acted as a more dominating figure as the whole story showed to be more of a monologue than a dialogue between the two. The words coming out of her mother's mouth show that the mother has accepted these rules of behavior in her own life, yet the way in which the author illustrates this shows the girls distaste to all these rules. Both characters although presumably innocent, seem to show tendencies of rebellious nature towards society. In terms of society, the stories take place during different times and places. The character in "Girl" originated in the Caribbean and of poor descent whereas Queenie portrayed a richer class from Boston as affirmed by the author, "...getting sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A&P must look pretty crummy." These different circumstances could also be attributed to the characters actions. The character in "Girl" shows to be a flat character or one that acts expectedly, and seeing that she came from such a traditional background, one can assume she did was she was told and did so willingly or not because the fact she did not respond to her tyrant of a mother. However with Queenie, her character is shown to be more complex or round. It is unpredictable like the bee she is described as and unexpected such as when Sammy says "Her voice kind of startled me, the way voices do when you see the people first, coming out so flat and dumb yet kind of tony too..." (Updike). Quiet, and mysterious to Sammy and the reader, she then begins to reveal new characteristics that might not have been foreseen.
The underlying themes in each story are ones that communicate oppression in society and more specifically the standards set for girls and women in society. The bold title "Girl," and the "A&P" being solely based on the disruption caused when three girls waltzed in a grocery story dressed indecent is really a subtle way of exposing the double standard society has placed on girls that is not shown towards boys. The mother in "Girl" had so many requirements for the young girl including behavior in front of men, "this is how to behave in the presence of men who don't know you very well, and this is the way they won't recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming." (Kincaid) The mother acted as a symbol for an oppressive society where women were not held in the same regard as men, socially. Likewise, had it been three boys instead of three girls in "A&P," the story might have been different. The boys would have been shrugged off as just boys being boys, however because the story was three girls, it can be closely associated to "Girl" where the mother uses the word "slut" to indicate what she would become if she decidedly lets herself "be the kind of woman the baker won't let near the bread." (Kincaid) In this story however, the store manager acts as the oppressive society, demanding they "be decently dressed when you come in here." (Updike)

What's more is in "Girl," a larger political theme exists within that could only be known by researching the author and her background. The reason behind the bitterness between both mother and daughter goes deeper than the surface, where mother daughter banter seems normal in this day and age. In actuality, during this oppressive state between Britain and the Caribbean, the mother favored British lifestyle and all that was affiliated with it, yet in opposition, the girl was anti- imperialism, therefore causing conflict among each other. In what seems to be a sort of monologue, "Girl" goes onto contain a theme involving political overtones less apparent and contrary to that of "A&P."

In the stories written by John Updike and Jamaica Kincaid, both are completely different in terms of plot and the manner in which each were written, however through the elements of character and theme, the two can be closely associated to one another. By looking further into stories one will find that there is usually more than what meets the eye as illustrated in "Girl" and "A&P."

Works Cited

1.Updike, John. A&P. Portable Literature. Comp. Laurie G.
Kirszner, and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston: Wadsworth, 2004. 74-79.

2.Kincaid, Jamaica. Girl. Portable Literature. Comp.
Laurie G. Kirszner, and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston: Wadsworth, 2004. 289-290.

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