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John Updike wrote many books and short stories. Many of his characters resembled
people he knew or they reflected his views on what was going on in America
(Interview 75-79). They expressed his views on the value system that people
lived by. One of these ideas was individualism. Individualism has not always
been present in society. Up until the late 1960?s, people accepted whatever
was happening around them. Very few stood up for themselves or for others. Many
people wished to, but were too afraid to speak up. They had to find other ways
of expressing what they really thought. John Updike?s idea of individuality
expressed through the character of Sammy, in ?A&P,? closes the gap
between the 1950?s value system and today. To be an individual is
characterized by many things. An individual knows how to think for themselves.
They strive for independence and put their needs in front of others. If
something is considered, ?the thing to do,? they will steer in the opposite
direction. An individual wants to be seen differently from the rest of society.
They want to have uniqueness unlike any other. Conformists, on the other hand,
are people who thrive on being accepted. They wear the trendy clothes and put a
group?s best interest ahead of their own. They act in whatever way is
acceptable to the group they wish to be apart of. Conformists tell people what
they want to hear rather than speaking their own mind. They are prisoners within
themselves. They are monotonous and carry on the same way day in and day out.
Conformists are amusing due to their lack of thought. Sammy recognizes this when
he refers to the shoppers as, ?The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle?
(Literature 13). In the late 1950?s, individuality was rarely seen. People
wanted to be just like their neighbors. They moved into houses identical to
those all around them. Men always wore suits and ties and women wore dresses.
People did everything to please society and keep their status equal with those
amongst them (Stata 1-2). Communism was a scare to our country during this time.
No one wanted their neighbor to think they were a communist. This added to their
desire to be accepted. If they were not accepted they would be, not just
disliked, but ostracized. Due to this, they all became conformists. They lived
by the silent laws of conformity, which pushed for everyone to be the same.
?Conformity was the measure of popularity as well as moral rightness? (Short
6). In today?s society individualism is greatly enforced. We have been told
since our sandbox days to be different. Do something new and exciting to get
recognition. We want notability for ourselves. We don?t want to be like the
guy next door. The American Dream has changed since the 1950?s. Today people
strive to be rich. They want to be able to top their friends and family when it
comes to material. Money is what matters. Each person has to try a new way to
achieve this dream of money, which pushes him or her to seek individuality. This
will help them learn what makes them different and use it to rise above. The
value system of today let?s people grow within themselves. It does not hold
them back as it did in the 1950?s. As Updike once said, ?Something quite
nice has happened to the American spirit? (Interview 78). Sammy was definitely
an individual. He stood up for what he believed in and never backed down. He
didn?t care what his boss thought in regards to his quitting. He was making a
statement. This was very uncommon in the 1950?s. People did not quit their
jobs over a decision made by a superior that had no affect on them, but Sammy
did. He quit because he felt that the treatment the girls received was
unnecessary. He also put forth his individualism when his boss questioned what
he said. He could have easily taken back his words. Instead he went through with
quitting his job. In his eyes, ?Once you begin a gesture, its fatal not to go
through with it? (Literature 16). Updike knew well of the 1950?s and all the
good and bad that came from that decade since he lived through it. He never knew
that how he had Sammy think, act, and feel would be how the teenagers of the
future would be. Sammy?s character in ?A&P? showed the type of person
that the teenagers of today have been pushed to be. Updike never knew his
character was a foreshadowing of the choices a generation soon to come would
make (Short 11).
?A&P.? Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama 7/e.
Eds. Rossi, Patricia, Lisa Moore, Katherine Glynn, and Donna Campion. New York:
Addison Wesley Longman, Inc, 1999. 12-16. ?A&P.? Short Stories for
Students. Wilson, Kathleen. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1998. Vol 3. 1-21.
?Interview with John Updike.? Conversations with John Updike. Plath, James.
Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1994. 74-83. Stata, Raymie.
?What is Individualism.? www.vix.com. http://www.vix.com/objectivism/Writing/RaymieStata/WhatIsIndividualism.html
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