20 March 2013
Symbolism of three short stories Coming of age signifies a growth in a person's identity. It is the time when adolescents experience a pivotal moment that will shape their character and lead to a realization of who they really are. The three stories that illustrate both concepts are Greasy Lake by T. Coraghessan, Where Are You Going Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates and A & P by John Updike. A & P is about a coming of age for Sammy. Though it takes place over the period of a few hours, it represents a much larger process of maturation. Greasy lake is about three young men on the road to maturity, and along the way they make a number of mistakes and must suffer the consequences. On the other hand, the author Joyce Carol Oates talks about a young woman who is also on the road to maturity but focuses on self-discovery. In all three short stories, which deal with coming of age and discovering self-identify, the reader must go through a revelatory experience including obstacles that shape the characters’ future behavior. From the beginning of Greasy Lake, the narrator gives a glimpse of symbols of what he and his friends are like during that night. They wear leather jackets and have toothpicks in their mouths. They sniffed coke, which is not exactly a cheap drug on the market. The assumption can be drawn that they are privileged living in an area of wealth, where not much occurs because that day they were bored most of the time. The car they drove to Greasy Lake was an old station wagon, which without a doubt is not the “ride” of a true tough-guy. Soon as the boys arrive at the Greasy Lake, a “chopper” is parked on the shore, and next to it is a 57 Chevy (Boyle 190). Hendricks 2 Both of the vehicles are like race cars that imply a greasy image. The Chevy owner is a tough muscular character. The biker, whom is regarded as a bad older character, is said to be dangerous. The vehicles are a representation of the individuals who drive them. Another symbol of danger the young men face is Greasy Lake itself. The lake is described as being "fetid and murky, the mud banks glittering with broken glass and strewn with beer cans" (Boyle 189). It is a sign that nothing good lies within. Several times throughout the story, Boyle refers to not only the main characters as being greasy, but also describes a variety of other people in the same way. This ties the lake and the greasy characters together. It is ironic that not only is the lake named Greasy Lake, but the individuals who hang out there are also referred to as being greasy characters as well. This led to violent subsequent events later on in the story, as the narrator gets chased and beaten up, and during these events, the narrator realizes he was indeed a bad kid, but learns through the tough way that there are even worse people in this world. In the story “A & P,” Sammy gives a glimpse of symbols of maturation. From the time the girls enter the grocery store, to the moment they leave, there are many changes in Sammy. At first, he sees only the physicality of the girls: how they look and what they are wearing, seem to be his only observations. As the story progresses, he notices the interactions between the girls, and he even determines the hierarchy of the small dynamic. He observes their actions and how they affect the other patrons of the business. Rather, how the other people view the girls’ actions. His thought process is maturing and he starts to see things as an adult might see them. He notices that the "regulars" seem to do the same things day in and day out (Updike 142). Following the same path and directions through the aisles, they check off their lists and go about their searching. This realization is why the group of girls is so refreshing to him. They are Hendricks 3 different and do not seem to follow any set path. After seeing this, he starts to feel bad about the way the girls are being viewed by others. He no longer wants to be part of something that discourages uniqueness. This is further supported in the checkout scene, when he makes the comment about the policy and how it is what the "kingpins" want (Updike 144). It is not something that he believes in, nor does he want to enforce. Sammy starts to feel, for the first time, that there is something out there that is better. When he decides to quit his job, hastily as it may be, he is making the choice to be an individual, to venture into the unknown. It is something that he knows he has to do, so he does have some hesitation in "removing the apron" (Updike 144). Once it has been removed, he knows that he cannot put it back on. This symbolizes his acceptance of having to move on in life. When the manager makes reference to Sammy's decision and its effect on his parents, it is a representation of Sammy's coming of age. He is leaving his adolescence behind and this always has some effect on parents. It is hard for them to let their children go into adulthood. This time is something that he says his family looks back on as sad, but he does not see it that way, at all. Sammy sees it as a time that he took a significant step towards becoming a man. In the short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates, many symbols are used to convey the change from childhood to adolescence and sexuality. The way Connie behaves with her friends shows how she has long to grow up and have adult relations. When Connie goes out with her friends, they would run "across the highway, ducking fast across the busy road, to a drive-in restaurant where older kids hung out" (Oates 206). The continual music in these circumstances represents how they try to act older. When she went out, "her walk could be languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head" Hendricks 4 (Oates 206). Music always plays at their hangout, the local restaurant. They "listened to the music that made everything so good; the music was always in the background, like music at a church service; it was something to depend upon" (Oates 206). In these instances, the music is enjoyable and well-liked by Connie because she wants to be pretty and popular with the boys, rather than innocent and child-like. She constantly thinks about the boys she meets on her nights out, sometimes filling her mind with trashy daydreams. All the boys dissolve into a "single face that was not even a face but an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent insisting pounding of the music" (Oates 206). She longs to join the adult world and that is the reason she enjoys the music so, it represents that world. When the night ends and she returns home, the music fades away, signifying her return to innocence and departure. All three stories demonstrate a turning point to maturity. This is a turning point in which adolescents grow up and know right from wrong. The events throughout an adolescent’s life influence future actions and behavior, having learned valuable lessons.
Works Cited Updike, John. “A & P”. Literature Craft & Voice second edition. Nicholas Delbanco. Alan Cheuse. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill. 2010. 141-145. Print Boyle, T. Coraghessan. “Greasy Lake”. Literature Craft & Voice second edition. Nicholas Delbanco. Alan Cheuse. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill. 2010. 189-194.Print Oates, Joyce Carol. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. Literature Craft & Voice second edition. Nicholas Delbanco. Alan Cheuse. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill. 2010. 205-213. Print