A And P With Araby Essay

John Updike’s A ; P and James Joyce’s Araby share many of the same literary
traits. The primary focus of the two stories revolves around a young man who is
compelled to decipher the different between cruel reality and the fantasies of
romance that play in his head. That the man does, indeed, discover the
difference is what sets him off into emotional collapse. One of the main
similarities between the two stories is the fact that the main character, who is
also the protagonist, has built up incredible,yet unrealistic, expectations of
women, having focused upon one in particular towards which he places all his
unrequited affection. The expectation these men hold when finally “face to
face with their object of worship” (Wells, 1993, p. 127) is what sends the
final and crushing blow of reality: The rejection they suffer is far too great
for them to bear. Updike is famous for taking other author’s works and twisting
them so that they reflect a more contemporary flavor. While the story remains
the same, the climate is singular only to Updike. This is the reason why there
are similarities as well as deviations from Joyce’s original piece. Plot, theme
and detail are three of the most resembling aspects of the two stories over all
other literary components; characteristic of both writers’ works, each rendition
offers its own unique perspective upon the young man’s romantic infatuation. Not
only are descriptive phrases shared by both stories, but parallels occur with
each ending, as well (Doloff 113). What is even more telling of Updike’s
imitation of Joyce’s Araby is the fact that the A & P title is hauntingly
close in pronunciation to the original story’s title. The theme of A ; P and
Araby are so close to each other that the subtle differences might be somewhat
imperceptible to the untrained eye. Both stories delve into the unstable psyche
of a young man who is faced with one of life’s most difficult lessons: that
things are not always as they appear to be. Telling the tale as a way of looking
back on his life, the protagonist allows the reader to follow his life’s lessons
as they are learned, imparting upon the audience all the emotional pain and
suffering endured for each one. The primary focal point is the young man’s love
for a completely unattainable girl who unknowingly riles the man into such a
sexual and emotional frenzy that he begins to confuse “sexual impulses for
those of honor and chivalry” (Wells, 1993, p. 127). It is this very
situation of self-deception upon which both stories concentrate that brings the
young man to his emotional knees as he is forced to “compensate for the
emptiness and longing in the young boy’s life” (Norris 309). As much as
Updike’s rendition is different from Joyce’s original work, the two pieces are
as closely related as any literary writings can be. Specifically addressing
details, it can be argued that Updike missed no opportunity to fashion A & P
as much after Araby as possible. For example, one aspect of womanhood that
fascinates and intrigues both young men is the whiteness of the girls’ skin.

This explicit detail is not to be taken lightly in either piece, for the
implication is integral to the other important story elements, particularly as
they deal with female obsession. Focusing upon the milky softness and “the
white curve of her neck”(Joyce 32) demonstrates the overwhelming interest
Joyce’s protagonist place in the more subtle features; as well, Updike’s
character is equally as enthralled by the sensuality of his lady’s “long
white prima-donna legs” (A & P 188). One considerable difference
between Updike’s A & P and Joyce’s Araby is the gap between the young men’s
ages, with Updike’s embarking upon his twenties while Joyce’s is of a
significantly more tender age. This divergence presents itself as one of the
most instrumentally unique aspects separating the two stories, as it establishes
a considerable variance between the age groups. The reader is more readily able
to accept the fact that the younger man has not yet gained the ability to
ascertain the complex differences between love’s reality; on the other hand, it
is not as easy to apply this same understanding to Updike’s older character, who
should by all rights be significantly more familiar with the ways of the world
by that age. “The lesson that romance and morality are antithetical,
whether learned from haunting celibates or breathed in with the chastising
Dublin air, has not been lost on the narrator” (Coulthard 97). What does
not escape either story, however, is the manner in which the young men are
transformed into “distracted, agitated, disoriented” (Wells, 1993, p.

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127) versions of their former selves once they have become focused upon their
respective objects of affection. Both have lost sight of what is important
within their lives, “with the serious work of life” (Joyce 32), to see
what havoc their passion is wreaking. It is not important that everyone around
them notices the way they have withdrawn from reality; rather, they have both
come under a spell of infatuation that pays no mind to anything but their
fixations (Wells, 1993). Despite their best efforts, neither young man
ultimately wins the heart — or the attention — of his respective love
interest, which Updike’s character asserts to be “the sad part of the
story” (192). Their gallant rescue attempts aside, the two men are faced
with the grim and shattering reality that the girls have no desire for their
company. This particular attention to plot is critical within the two stories,
because it demonstrates how despair can be both disheartening and uplifting at
the same time. Updike’s character has found himself holding a dollar bill that
he obtained from his lady love, to which he inwardly acknowledges “it just
having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever
known” (193-94). The gifts each young man offered his love interest are not
well received; in fact, it is at this very moment in each story that the reader
feels the depths of each character’s despair. While different in origination,
the intent was the same, since both young men come from such diverse
backgrounds; where Joyce’s Irish boy offers a material gesture, Updike’s
American character offers himself as a shield against any further antagonizing
his lady has endured. This clearly demonstrates the variance in both
materialistic values and the concepts of what is important to each young man. To
one, offering something tangible is far more worthwhile than anything else he
could present; to the other, however, extending his manliness far better suits
his attempts to win the girl’s heart. “The story’s closing moral turns on
itself by concluding with a parabolic maneuver, by having the narrative
consciousness turn itself into an allegorical figure” (Norris 309). No
matter their efforts, both young men fail miserably in their attempts to woo
their respective ladies. The similarities between the two stories with regard to
the manner in which each is conveyed to the reader speak of life’s lessons and
the sometimes painful road one is required to take in order to gain such
experience. With images of chivalry and romance notwithstanding, both Updike’s A
& P and Joyce’s Araby set forth to impart the many trials and tribulations
associated with love. “Expressions of emotions and thoughts also show
parallels, including the ending self-revelation and climax” (Doloff 255).

Coulthard, A.R. “Joyce’s ‘Araby’.,” The Explicator, vol. 52, (1994)
: Winter, pp.97(3). Doloff, Steven. “Aspects of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ in
James Joyce’s ‘Araby’.,” James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 33, (1995) : Fall, pp.

113(3). Doloff, Steven. “Rousseau and the confessions of ‘Araby’.,”
James Joyce Quarterly, vol.33, (1996) : Winter, pp. 255(4). Joyce, James.

Dubliners. (New York : Penguin, 1967). Norris, Margot. “Blind streets and
seeing houses: Araby’s dim glass revisited.,” Studies in Short Fiction,
vol. 32, (1995) : Summer, pp. 309(10). Updike, John. “A & P.”
Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories. (New York : Knopf, 1962). Wells, Walter.

“John Updike’s ‘A & P’: a return visit to Araby.,” Studies in
Short Fiction, vol. 30, (1993) : Spring, pp. 127(7).


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