In the stories "A & P" and "Araby," what are the messages about the coming-of-age experence?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Both protagonists of the stories "A & P" and "Araby" find that their romantic notions and ideals are shattered when they enter the adult world of harsh reality.

"A & P"

  • Sammy romanticizes the appearance of the three girls who enter the grocery store in only their swimsuits. The third one he calls Queenie as she possesses "white prima-donna legs." She appears to be the leader and demonstrates to the others how to move; her straps have fallen upon the "cool tops of her arms" and Sammy feels that her face is the "only kind of face you can have" if a girl is going to walk into the A & P in this manner. He is mesmerized by her.
  • When he compares this romantic delight to the "houseslaves in pin curlers" he becomes cynical of these women who move mechanically along the aisles, checking off items on their grocery lists as they fill their carts. He rejects the sight of them.
  • Further, as he continues to watch the nearly naked girls, he fantasizes, "Darling," I said. "Hold me tight." But, when "old McMahon" "sizes" them up, Sammy is sympathetic to them:  "Poor kids, I began to feel sorry for them, they couldn't help it." He is then thrilled when he watches as Queenie pulls the folded dollar bill from the "hollow at the center" of her pink top.
  • When the manager, Mr. Lengel, accosts the girls and tells them that they must be "decently dressed" in order to come into the store because of company policy, Sammy decides upon the daring gesture of saying "I quit" loudly enough for the girls to hear, hoping they will watch him as their "unsuspected hero."
  • Despite Lengel's warning that Sammy does not realize what he is saying, Sammy insists upon quitting; in his way of thinking "once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it." 
  • After he is outside the store and watches Lengel checking out customers, however, Sammy notices that the girls are gone, and his stomach falls as he realizes "how hard the world was going to be for me hereafter." He has acted rashly and won nothing; instead, he has only ended up in a limbo between the adult and childish world. Life in the adult world is one of compromise, Sammy realizes; idealism is non-existent; it only seems real in romantic dreams.

"Araby"

  • The young protagonist of Joyce's narrative romanticizes the sister of a boy with whom he associates in the neighborhood. On his floor he lies so that he can see her across the way as light shines behind her, lending an aura around her.
  • He daydreams about her and at night the exotic image of the bazaar Araby "cast an Eastern enchantment over [him]."
  • The girl's image stays with him; in the market, with great romantic imagination, he sees himself as a knight who holds the grail while he carries over his shoulder the groceries for his aunt: "I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes."
  • The boy finds that he has no "patience with the serious work of life, which stood between me and my desire, [and it] seemed to me child's play, ugly monotonous child's play."
  • When he does talk to Mangan's sister, she speaks of Araby, but then says that she cannot go because she has a retreat to attend. The boy generously promises to bring something back from the bazaar for her.
  • But, the evening journey to Araby marks the end of his fantasy as he enters a dark hall, having arrived near closing time. There is no exotic atmosphere there, and in the empty area he merely hears two young ladies talking to some men. The boy lets some pennies he holds fall to the floor in a gesture of despair.
  • As the lights go out, he sees himself in the darkness in a crushing moment of self-discovery. He realizes he has been deceived by his own vanities and Mangan's sister is just a girl. "I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

Both Sammy of "A & P" and the boy of "Araby" recognize their self-deception in their romantic notions; furthermore, they are struck with the cold and crushing forces of reality as they part from their boyish dreams.

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