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by John Updike

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Do you find the story meaningful? To what extent can you relate it in any significant way to your own life?

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Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is a story about a moment which is very meaningful, at the time, to the nineteen-year-old protagonist. Having watched the group of girls moving around the store for some time, he begins to feel a certain attachment to them, largely driven by his fascination with "Queenie" and her bare shoulders, and declares "I quit" when his manager embarrasses them by saying they shouldn't come into the shop unless they are "decent." Having dramatically quit, however, the protagonist leaves the store and finds that the girls are gone, so whatever he hoped to get out of this gesture, he won't get—he feels "how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter."

There are lots of angles from which we can approach this story. A lot of it may depend on whether you are a boy or a girl, and whether you identify with the protagonist of the story or with the girls who are the focus of the protagonist's lust. Look at the way he breaks them down into their constituent body parts rather than thinking of them as people. The narrative is distinctly and markedly that of a nineteen-year-old man from a small town who has never had proper contact with women. As a young woman, this story may resonate with you because:

1. You too have felt objectified by young men who don't want to get to know you but just see you as sexual objects.

2. You too have experienced young men feeling entitled to something from you, even if only attention, because they have made a dramatic gesture which you never asked for.

3. You too may have been subjected to restrictive dress codes from older men who suggest that your shoulders are somehow sexual parts of your body which should be covered up.

If you are a boy, you may feel that this story resonates with you because:

1. You too have felt confused by what girls want from you, how to relate to them, and what you can do to get their attention;

2. You too have felt the need to stand up for something or somebody, but then have been ignored—your gesture has gone unremarked, and you aren't sure how you could have made your point better.

I think that this story aptly captures a certain teenage experience which, although this story was written decades ago, can still resonate today with those who have grown up in small towns. It also captures a teenage experience of focusing upon a moment which is very significant to you and your life but passes unremarked among the others in the story, who may never have known they were in the story at all.

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