John Updike’s short story A&P is realistic in several ways. First, the setting is real, a store in New England whose name is The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. The setting is a typical store with products such as “bread, herring, meat, and pulling carts” (Updike 2). The characterization is also realistic with the protagonist and the skimpily dressed three girls led by Quennie representing the younger, more liberal generation that is not bound by old rituals. The chasm in values adds to the realistic feel of the story. Represented by Lengel, who reprimands Quennie for being inappropriately dressed, reminding them: “Girls, this is not the beach” (Updike 3), the older folk demands compliance to set norms and standards. Sammy’s outburst and defiance of social norms is realistic and typical of a 19 year old teenager coming of age.
Stokesie and Old McMahon contribute very little but are vitally important to Updike’s story in revealing the differences in social norms between different generations. McMahon for instance is old but just like 19 year old Sammy; he cannot help but ogle at Quennie and her friends’ half exposed body. Sammy says of the old man looking at the girls: “patting his mouth and looking after them sizing up their joints” (Updike 4). While McMahon’s ogling of the girls is similar to Sammy’s, Stokesie represents a different type of social norms. He is 22 and just three years older than Sammy. However, he is already married and with two children. He is content with his job and the ritualistic life of fending and providing for his own family. Stokesie and McMahon help to drive the theme of differences and similarities in social norms between generations.
The climax of A&P is as important as Sammy suggests because it escalates the conflict that runs through the story before finally bringing it to a conclusion. The conflict in the story is the clash of social norms between the older, compliant, and ritualistic generation and the emerging, non-conforming generation. The climax represents the escalation of this conflict as Lengel dresses down and embarrasses the girls shouting: “we want you decently dressed when you come in here” (Updike 6). As Lengel chases the girls out of the store, Sammy protests by quitting his job to impress them. But they do not hear him say he quits, so it goes to waste. Nevertheless, he quits his job and sets off to an unprecedented future, marking his initiation into adulthood.
Sammy, the protagonist in Updike’s short story changes and grows over the course of the story from a cynical and romantic 19 year old to an impulsive person at the end of the story. At the beginning of the story, he cynically narrates about the workers on a sewer up the street terming them “old freeloaders” (Updike 2). He wonders what the bum in their baggy pants would do with “four giant cans of pineapple juice” (Updike 2). When Quennie turns up at the store, Sammy is impressed by where she removed her dollar from. Henceforth throughout the story, he cannot do anything but wait for Quennie and her gang and think about them romantically. Yet towards the end of the story, he becomes impulsive when he quits his job to impress Quennie.
Part 2: A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
The speaker in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is a collective narrator, or the townspeople. The collective noun “our” and “we” are used to show that more than one people are speaking. In the first sentence of the story, the author introduces the perspective of the collective saying: “our whole town” (Faulkner 1). This represents the collective narrator. At one point, it is the local authorities speaking as they go in to collect taxes. At another point, it is the people who had discovered the stench and decided to put it off speaking. At another point, it is the pharmacist who sold Emily poison who is speaking.
In the second paragraph of “A Rose for Emily”, it is obvious the narrator is not telling lies in describing Emily’s house and the setting of the story. The house has a “stubborn and coquettish decay” (Faulkner 1) and is a relic of the past and has a gothic element that enhances the mystery of the story. The architecture and presence of cotton gin are reminiscent of the town’s past of slavery.
I think Miss Emily Grierson was a misanthrope who preferred her own company. She kept to herself because she was socially poorly adjusted. Locked “out of the world by her father” (Faulkner 3), she did not know how to interact with the world. She is suffering from the consequences of alienation hence her inability to hold down a man. Her final act of suicide shows that she was depressed and hopeless and did not find any merit in continuing to live.
Part 2 B: Creative Writing: Rewrite of Scene 3
The nights have been long and the days even longer. I have not seen anyone in a while but I like it that way. Save for the noise from the construction workers, the world is just like I love it.
But who is this Homer Baron?
Everyone is talking about him. He is good for the eyes. But everyone must be thinking so. Every woman in the town must be after him. I like the sound of his commanding voice as it rises above the din of the tools of the workers he is chaperoning. But I hate the noise altogether. I wish every noise could stop but the deep sound of his voice. I hope he is good enough for Emily. I hope she is as loving as my father. I hope we can lock ourselves in this solitude far away from the world. But I must get well first. I feel sick and weak but I hope I can recover for him.
Later in the day, I sneaked out of the house, walked slowly by the construction workers unsure whether I was just weak or wanted to see Homer. He looked as good from near as he looked from afar.
“I am Miss…..” I tried to mutter but stuttered off, hoping he did not hear me.
“Rat poison”, I said to the druggist.
”Which one Ma’am”, he quipped back as if I knew which one would kill faster.
I do not even want to look at him or anyone. I try to walk back fast not to be seen by the curious townspeople. Not good in minding their own business. I saw Homer again and was not sure how to use the rat poison.
Part 3A: Why I Live in the P.O
The initial impression of Sister, the narrator in Welty’s Why I Live in the P.O, was that she was a frank, outspoken lady. At the beginning of the story, the reader gets the idea that she is an honest, hardworking girl who has to endure the injustices visited on her by her family especially with the return of her sister Stella-Rondo following her separation with her husband. With time however, it is revealed that she is petty, jealous, vindictive, and manipulative when she says of her sister Stella Rondo and her two year old son: “..Trying to stretch two chickens over five people and a completely unexpected child” (Welty 2). At the point where she invites the audience to see how ugly her sister’s hat was, saying “I wish you could see it” (Welty 4), she comes across as petty. She manipulates the audience to hate her family members supposedly for being unfair to her but rather than win sympathy, she comes across as mean-spirited and harsh especially in the way he judges her sister Stella-Rondo.
Stella-Rondo is portrayed as manipulative and dramatic, all in an attempt to win the attention of her family. She lies about Sister to get her in trouble with Papa Daddy and stands by her untruths: “You did say it too. Anybody in the world could of heard you, that had ears” (Welty 3). Except that Stella-Rondo was not telling the truth. She has just separated from her husband and come home with a two year old and feels she deserved sympathy. Mama is characterized as gullible and easily manipulated by her daughter Stella-Rondo. She is unfair to Sister and does not love her daughters equally. Uncle Rondo is psychologically unstable and cruel to Sister. Papa-Daddy has a salty attitude and repeatedly reminds Sister that she owes her job at the post office to his connections. Strikingly, all these characters seem flat as they do not change in the course of the story. All of them remain static and do not adjust to accommodate each other.
Welty used the first-person point of view to develop Sister’s character to good effect. Why I Live in the P. O is a comic story that thrives on the warped and irrational logic that runs through the story. The first-person point of view ensures that the warped logic is not challenged by any other perspective. When Sister makes the irrational decision to “live at the post office away from his family”, (Welty 8) it is a decision that would have been challenged by a third-person perspective. The first-person perspective allows Sister to manipulate the audience and cause a good laugh through her silly decisions.
Part 3: Characterization in A&P and A Rose for Emily
Characterization is a key element of storytelling as it helps the story teller or writer to convey thematic concerns and the moral lesson. Typically, characters can be main or minor and flat or round. A main character is the one around whom a story revolves. It can be one or more. A minor character supports the main character and storytelling by accentuating certain character traits and themes. A character can be flat or round. A flat character is two-dimensional and remains static in the course of the story. Conversely, a round character is three of multi-dimensional and changes as the story develops, sometimes even to the surprise of the reader.
The protagonist in A&P is Sammy while the antagonist is Lengel. The story revolves around Sammy’s initiation to adulthood as a 19 year old. Having secured employment through the help of his parents, he is not very keen on the job. He is easily distracted by the sewer workers in the first instance observing them as “old freeloaders” (Updike 2). Subsequently, he finds it even harder to concentrate after Quennie and her friends show up. Finally, he quits the job to impress the girls who did not even notice him.
The protagonist in A Rose for Emily is Miss Emily while the antagonists are the townspeople. Miss Emily is portrayed as a peculiar, mysterious person throughout the story. Her story is told through the eyes of the collective narrator. First, she is “rarely sighted as she rarely left the house” (Faulkner 3). Alienated from the world by her father, she became a proper misanthrope. So isolated is she that when her father died, she turned away the people who had come to bury him away. She is a static flat character who remains isolated until her death.
The other characters in both A&P and A rose for Emily are variedly flat and rounded. In A&P for instance, the antagonist, Lengel, is a ritualistic microcosm of the old social norms who could not condone skimpily dressed girls in his store. “We want you decently dressed when you come here” (Updike 4), he shouts to Quennie and her friends. His tough demeanor remains until the end when to the readers’ surprise he attempts to talk Sammy into not quitting the job. Other characters such as Stokesie and Old McMahon remain two dimensional as they do not change in the course of the story. Quennie and her friends remain free-spirited throughout the story.
The minor characters in A Rose for Emily are more rounded than those in “A&P”. The townspeople are at the beginning of the story portrayed as aloof to Emily’s predicament, only showing interest in her life to feed the town gossip. The narrators do not go to her house unless it was absolutely necessary, for instance when they smelled a stench coming from her house and “went there to put lime” (Faulkner 4). Emily did not receive much love from the village and after turning away everyone when they came to bury her father, the reader does not expect anyone would turn up for her funeral. However, the townspeople came to bury her with roses.
Part 4: The Dead by James Joyce
The setting of Joyce’s novella shapes our impression of Aunts Kate and Julia and Mary Jane in several ways. First, it forms the impression that the aunts are warm and hospitable, as is expected of their age group in Irish culture. As it “snowed outside and snowflakes fell” (Joyce 1), the aunts offered a warm place where their family and friends could come, have fun, and relax. They welcome the guests warmly, cook for them, and served delicious food. The other impression of the hosts gleaned from the setting is that they are tolerant of cultural differences. Remarkably, they have created an environment for everyone in the guest list regardless of their generation. The choice of music was up to the guests. Opposite to Gabriel and Molly who come across as intolerant to divergent views, the setting provided by Kate and Julia creates an impression of warmth, hospitability, and tolerance. Ultimately, the hosts provided a setting as prescribed by social norms in the society, thus setting up a stage for the ensuing paralysis that has gripped the society and its people.
All of the actions on the novella do not take place at the Misses Morkans’ annual dance but shifts to other settings. The second setting of the action is in a cab as Gabriel rides off from the party. The third setting is a hotel room where Gabriel and his wife spend the night after the party.
The novella’s last sentence is loaded with symbolism. The sentence reads: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end upon all the living and the dead” (Joyce 17). Swooning refers to the fact that his soul became faint with the realization that his wife had loved someone more than she had loved him. The falling of snow represents the inactivity of life, the similarities between life and death. Snow is typically cold and undesirable. In the same way, life was joyless and undesirable. The livings were as joyless as those who had died. Noticeably, Gabriel’s wife was the only object of genuine affection in the world. He felt that only the love she felt for him was alive and every other thing was dead. However, on hearing that a man had loved her more to the extent that he died, he felt life dissipating from him. He felt just like the dead. The line therefore symbolizes the joylessness of life and lack of difference between life and death.
Gabriel’s use of “distant music” (13) to describe his wife as he observed her on the landing at the top of the first flight of stairs is different from the way in which it has been used subsequently. In the first instance, the words are used to capture something attractive that always lingers in the near distant. To Gabriel, everything else was dead except the love he felt for his wife. Later however, he learned that a man had loved his wife more and died for her. The words “distant music” now changed meaning to represent something beautiful and ideal but elusive and away from his grasp.
Part 5B: Symbolism in The Dead
Several symbols are apparent in the novella “The Dead” but more the more prominent are snow, death, and music. All these symbols combine to accentuate the writer’s themes and add subtlety to the writing. Moreover, the symbols enhance the style of writing and characterization, and make them more poignant.
The symbol of snow features prominently to represent the strength and weakness of human nature and life. The snow in the novella falls in “flakes that are fragile and unique” (Joyce 2). But they are also random because of their unpredictability. In the same way, humanity is fragile and unique. Sometimes it is overflowing with goodness and others it is faulty. In the same way snow is versatile and volatile, humanity is equally unpredictable. Frozen snow is hard to crack and can stay solid for long under low temperatures. However, the same snow melts and becomes water. The capacity of snow to be solid ice and water is symbolic of the fickle nature of humanity.
The other symbol that features prominently in the novella is death, which poignantly gives the novella its title. The characters in the novella have been gripped by a certain spiritual numbness that makes them “no different from the dead” (Joyce 7). The city of Dublin for instance has gone through a cultural death that has left it spiritually paralyzed. In essence, the reality is squalid and every attempt to escape it futile. Gabriel for instance uses the stream of consciousness to romanticize his wife and escape the squalid reality that engulfed him but end up “swooned in the soul” (Joyce 17) when he realizes that someone had loved his wife more.
Music is the other vital symbolism used in the novella. Music represents the cultural spiritualism of the people. In the novella however, the writer bemoans the cultural paralysis that has pervaded Ireland mainly from the overbearing Catholic Church, Ireland’s own lack of adaptability, and the sprawling European influence. Julia’s “loss of her place in the choir” (Joyce 8) for instance is symbolic of an attempt to silence people and bring about cultural paralysis.
The three symbols of snow, death, and music are interlinked. The fickle nature of human existence for instance has brought about an unfeeling numbness that has paralyzed everyone. The symbol of death signifies that even the living as joyless and inactive as the dead. The symbol of music represents the cultural death of Ireland.
One of the themes explored in the novella “The Dead” is the paralysis of characters, and it is mainly manifest through the protagonist and his wife. Gabriel is an “intellectual and an overly educated man” (Joyce 4). However, he is extremely self-absorbed and does not know how to relate with others. At the Christmas party in his aunts’ residence, he finds it difficult conversing with others especially the younger people whose sense of politics and music he detested. He is so paralyzed with himself to see life through the point of view of others. His wife is equally paralyzed by the past and the love she enjoyed with her past lover. She has never moved own from a love affair she shared and has been forever paralyzed by the encounter.
The overarching theme in Joyce’s novella “The Dead” is paralysis. Remarkably, the novella captures the paralysis of the entire nation and its people. Spiritually and morally, the society had been captured and trapped in an inescapable net of certain social norms it was obvious the Irish society was paralyzed. The society’s intellectuals, who would normally be tasked with challenging social norms and convections, are equally trapped “in their own self-absorption” (Joyce 9). Rather than employ their intellectual prowess to liberate the society, the intellectuals have become paralyzed by their sense of self-importance that they hold the society in disdain. Although other themes such as treatment of women and cultural independence are weighty, I find the underlying paralysis that has gripped all aspects of life and characters more poignant.
Gabriel starts as an overbearing, insufferable, self-absorbed person, whose epiphany happens at the end of the novella, furthering the theme of paralysis. At the beginning of the party where the reader first encounters him, he is full of pride and disdain and unable to fit with “intellectually inferior people” (Joyce 4). He is also absorbed in his wife but upon realizing she does not love him as much as he would have loved, he becomes conscious of how much he had been paralyzed.
Gretta’s memories of Michael Furey contribute to the theme of paralysis. Gretta has been paralyzed by the love she enjoyed with Michael, who apparently died of “weather exposure” ((Joyce 14) when coming to see her. Despite not being physically present, Michael has managed to trap Gretta in the memory of the love that they shared. Just as Gabriel is paralyzed by his sense of importance, Gretta is paralyzed by her past.
Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. 1930. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/wf_rose.html. Accessed 23 May 2019.
Joyce, John. The Dead. 1914. http://www.online-literature.com/james_joyce/958/. Accessed 23 May 2019.
Updike, John. A&P. 1961. http://brainstorm-services.com/wcu-2004/A&P.pdf. Accessed 23 May 2019.
Welty, Eudora. Why I Live in the P.O. 1941. http://art-bin.com/art/or_weltypostoff.html. Accessed 23 May 2019.