Comparison and Contrast of the Main Characters in "A & P" and "Araby"
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Caitlin Hargrove Professor Sterr English 2 1 November 2004 Comparison and Contrast of the Main Characters in "A & P" and "Araby" Mordecai Marcus defines an initiation story as one that shows "a young protagonist experiencing a significant change of knowledge about the world or himself...and this change must point or lead him toward an adult life" (1960). As seen in John Updike's "A & P" and James Joyce's "Araby," both of the main characters are confronted by situations that bring them to "thresholds of maturity and understanding." Marcus classifies initiation stories based upon one of three levels that a character passes through during their struggle towards wisdom and clarification. Although both characters from "A & P" and "Araby" make it to this passageway toward adulthood, Sammy from "A & P" passes farther through Marcus's levels of initiation than does the narrator of "Araby." Despite the narrator of "Araby's" progress, Sammy matures more after his initiation as he appreciates his struggle and lessons learned more than the character in "Araby" by accepting his fate and moving forward instead of dwelling over his circumstances and blaming others for his frustration.
After the realization of the severity of his actions, Sammy begins to feel uneasy knowing that freedom has a great price and that the world was going to be hard on him thereafter (19). In a less rebellious story than "A & P," a young Irish man's obsession is portrayed in Joyce's "Araby." The narrator is a studious, introverted adolescent who has uncontrollably fallen in love with his friend Mangan's sister. The young man begins to lose his identity in his quest for love as he becomes bored with school and refers to it as "ugly monotonous child's play" (641). The narrator unrealistically fantasizes about the possibility of a relationship, believing his strong convictions will bring her to him. He pathetically prays for her affection at night, and follows her around town in what could be considered "confused adoration" in his state of misguided infatuation (641). As the young man has low self-esteem and is emotionally repressed by his strict Catholic upbringing, the narrator shies from speaking to Mangan's sister despite his strong emotions. Since he seems to be the most stoic and mature adolescent in their lane, Mangan's sister approaches the narrator one day to ask him if he would go to the bazaar Araby for her.
This lack of understanding and maturity only leaves "Araby's" narrator at the first level of Marcus's threshold, as he has yet to accept his fate as his own doing. Even though Sammy is uncertain of his future, he is realistic that the pain he endures is his own. He blames no one but himself for his mistakes, and uses his frustration as fuel for success in future endeavors. Sammy is able to look back upon his experience at A & P as a life lesson instead of a tragedy like his family views his choices. Although Sammy was initially uncertain of his fate, his actions placed him in the Marcus's second category of initiation, as he has come to the threshold struggling for wisdom but willing to continue on his voyage to adulthood. Through "Araby's" narrator placing his misfortune upon the back of society he is left at the first tier of Marcus's initiation journey. Progress towards maturity will develop upon his realization that he can overcome many restrictions imposed upon him by authority much like Sammy in "A & P". Finding value in his experience and understanding the purpose of his initiation will allow the narrator to make progress in his struggle towards adulthood.
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