I have a basic thesis statement for a research paper but need to refine it some. In the short story "A & P" by John Updike, the author shows us the moral dilemma facing Sammy, the bikini clad...

I have a basic thesis statement for a research paper but need to refine it some. In the short story "A & P" by John Updike, the author shows us the moral dilemma facing Sammy, the bikini clad girls, and young people in the 40s in comparison to the Victorian social code of proper behavior expressed by Sammy's boss and his own parents. 

How would I set up an outline for this?

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, a note about dates: The Victorian era ended with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, and John Updike's story was published in 1961 and is set in the late 1950s. Thus even the oldest people mentioned in the story were unlikely to have been alive in the Victorian era or have "Victorian" values. Sammy's parents would have been born in the 1920s or 1930s. Next, we don't actually encounter Sammy's parents in the story. The main thing we know about the parents is that they, like the other townsfolk (but unlike the rich tourist girls), are struggling to make ends meet and so Sammy needs his job. The issue is one common in many resort communities, of rich, sophisticated big city tourists having different values than the small town locals.

In order to set up a thesis statement, the first thing you need is an argument. In other words, rather than just a description of the major conflict in the story, you need to assert some claim about that story that a reader would not be able to discover just by reading it. 

You could argue that the right of the young girls to walk around in bikinis is a matter of freedom of speech. If you wanted to do this, you might want to start out by looking at issues of free speech and obscenity. The most relevant one is Penguin's republication of D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover in 1960, just before "A&P" was published.  As Updike was writing the story, the trials concerning the banning of Lawrence's novel for obscenity were prominent in newspaper headlines, and this might be a context for thinking through the issue of obscenity standards. Also. you need to consider the other point of view, that here we have rich tourists with a sense of entitlement, resented for the way they feel the right to violate local values. Does the way Sammy is distracted from his job ringing up groceries because he is ogling the girls justify the manager's concern? One part of an argumentative paper is looking at both sides of the issue before you make up your mind. 

If you are taking a stance that the right to wear or not wear what you wish is a basic freedom and that the story illustrates a free speech argument, you could set up an outline as follows:

  • Your thesis is that the right of girls to wear swimsuits in the store is a basic freedom, part of the guarantee of free speech in the US constitution. This is your introduction.
  • Description of what the girls were wearing and the manager's reaction.
  • What is defined as "indecent exposure" in the United States and how that is an issue of free speech.
  • Context of free speech debates in the period, including the Chatterley controversy and the 1957 obscenity trial concerning Ginsberg's "Howl".
  • Summary of the moral views of the townspeople and especially the manager.
  • Why you think that by expelling the girls the manager was violating their rights to freedom of expression. 
  • Why you think Sammy was taking a morally good stance in supporting the girls. 
  • Conclusion summarizing that the story makes an argument justifying the girls' right to wear their swimsuits in the store and Sammy's defense of them. In your conclusion, you might invoke John Stuart Mill's "harm principle" from his seminal essay "On Liberty" in which he asserts the basic moral principle that people should be free to do anything they wish as long as it does not harm others. This is the major theoretical defense in most free speech cases. 
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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