22 January 2019
“Coming of Age”
Our society constructed in a way that expects men and women to comfort certain social roles creating gender inequalities. This creates controversy between male and females around the world and uncertainty while growing up. These values and rules have been passed from the older generations to the newer generations creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of what the role of male and female should be in our society and other societies in the world. Today, even though people have tried to equalize the roles of male and female, we still have the same issue which creates confusion and frustration within the newer generations as they often feel obligated to follow certain patterns and morals created by the society we live, to be accepted and consider “normal.” I remember that when I was a child, I was gender socialized by my parents. The thought me about “the way” a girl should behave and the norms and values that I needed to follow to be accepted and admired by society. This issue created a conflict within myself because it was challenging for me to understand who I was and how to balance “the self” with what is considering to be normal and acceptable. In the stories about coming of age “Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro and “A & P” by John Updike, the authors portray and support the theme: The rebellion against authority that expects people to conform to the rules and values of the older generations and society.
In the Story “Boys and Girls” Munro’s theme implies the rebellion against authority and the rules and values that have been passed from the older generations and society which also closely relates to the story “A & P” as Updike portraits the same theme through the story. “Boys and Girls” is narrated from the first-person point of view and tells a coming of age story in which the narrator recalls her life as a kid. She lives in Canada in the mid 20th century with her family on a fox farm, and different gender roles characterize her life. In this story, she portraits the struggle against society’s idea of how a girl should be and behave finding herself trapped in the ways of the world. In a relationship with “A & P,” the story is also narrated from the first-person point of view. The narrator is Sammy, a 19-year-old cashier at the A & P store. In the story, Sammy also seems to struggle in the modern world’s society as he works in a store and is expected to behave in a certain way that conforms authority and society. These give us an idea of how closely related these stories are. In fact, in the story “Boys and Girls” Munro uses several traditional symbols. For example, the horses representing freedom and independence with which the girl identifies but at the same time this feeling is killed because the “inside” domestic world is stifling while the “outside” world of nature is harsh. Munro’s tone is ironic. At first, the narrator has dreams about heroism and action. Then, the daydreams show her as a passive beneficiary of someone else’s heroism. These differing fantasy roles Illustrate the strict split between genders. Also, the repetition of the phrase “only a girl,” illustrates society puts a creative and energetic girl firmly in her place. When she gets to the description of “a hot dark kitchen in the summer,” creates an illusion of sound and imagery. This scene shows that the narrator feels trapped in a cage by tasks performed by a female that almost seems like that is her obligation. However, this conflicts tremendously with the freedom she feels when she is out doing work around the yard, what most would be considered as a man’s job. The girl tells her story but leaves many incidents to readers' interpretation. She begins by saying her hatred of housework and her happiness when helping her father but interrupt this with: “I have forgotten to say what the horses were feed.” This strategy shows the girls ambivalence about her father’s work; omitting this important detail allows her to relate to the story about killing Mack. The point of view is that of an adult looking back on her youth, trying to understand the events whose meaning eluded her at the time. She tries to analyze the reasons for her behavior but admits that she cannot understand why, for example, she disobeyed her father because it seemed like the only choice at the time. Besides, the author uses letting Flora scape out of the gate as a metaphor that implies that the narrator feels trapped in a traditional stereotypical role as a female who is expected to do what she is told. In Fact, by allowing the horse to scape is used to symbolize the narrator ’s female roles forced upon her. Therefore, she shows rebel behavior against the civilized world but is impossible to scape, however. This illustrates how the expectations of society affect our identity and behavior and lead to rebellion. I also noticed that the narrator is anonymous, and I have concluded that the reason why the narrator appears without a name through the entire story is that she is soul searching and she does not know who she is. I believe that this story is closely related to “A & P” and also share a similar theme and meaning. For example, in the story “A & P,” Sammy also tries to be a hero, only to realize that heroes do not get very fair in the modern world. In other words, those who tried to go against the norms and values of society are harshly judged, prejudicated and punished. This story contains strong examples of symbolism that relate to “Boys and Girls.” The clothes wormed by the characters is an amazing place to start. I would assume that the clothes wormed by most of Sammy’s clients identify them as normal boring people dressing for the right place and the right occasion (the ideal society). The three girls that walk into the establishment caught Sammy’s attention immediately because they are not wearing the adequate A & P dress code (attire). In fact, the girls are wearing bathing suits to a grocery store which seems to be the complete opposite considering that the store is not necessary right next to the beach. The bathing suits symbolize their youth and energy. In a relationship with “Boys’ and Girls,’’ it also symbolizes a way to break the rules and rebel against authority and its norms and values. This is what causes the management of the establishment to reprimand the girls from entering the store in bathing suits. Therefore, they are exciting to Sammy’s eyes because they seem different and fearless compared to the regular costumers of the store. Besides, due to the management actions, he decides to be heroic and rebel against social norms as well. The clothes as a symbol is essential when it comes to understanding Sammy. He is an employee of the store and needs to represent the business with the uniform and look like an employee of the establishment. In fact, he wears his apron to be recognized as a worker of the store. That is why it seems like a huge deal when he decides to remove the attire (apron). “I pull the bow at the back of my apron and start shrugging it off my shoulders. A couple of costumes that had been heading for my slot being to knock against each other, like scared pigs in a chute.” This means that Sammy is quitting his job, and this represents the heroic act because he quits as a product of the manager’s negative behavior towards the girls. The act of taking off the apron makes his actions quite concrete and visible. This relates to “Boys and Girls” when the narrator frees the horse named Flora. The act is so strong and symbolic because Sammy taking off his apron is a symbol for growing up and maturing. Also, the act of untying the apron is a symbol of freedom, rebellion and escape from the norms and values of society. In other words, before, the apron was a symbol of his attachment to authority. By removing the apron, Sammy is metaphorically “untying the apron strings” and growing up and standing up for what he believes should be right. He does not care about people think anymore, even though he recognizes that his parents will be very upset about his actions. But, then again, he decides to act against those who control him like the store manager.
So, the narrators of both stories represent the rebellion against authority that expects them to comfort the rules and values of older generations and society especially in the process of growing and becoming an adult. However, I have noticed that in the story “Boys and Girls” the struggle of gender inequalities between men and woman is also portrayed and the confusion and frustration that a girl experiences while growing up due to these norms and values. Besides, another difference I found between the stories is that in “A & P” Sammy can take actions for himself and leave that harsh world at the store. However, in “Boys and Girls” the narrator takes actions through a horse named Flora. She is never able to escape herself or quit the norms and values of her conflicted world. In other words, she uses Flora as a device of escape and rebellion against her father but is not able to physically escape herself. Most people are used to conform to the rules and values of the older generations and society. Nevertheless, if we act and become more “deviant” like Sammy and the narrator of “Boys and Girls” did; we could change these norms and values as we go against the odds, creating a less confusing, a less oppressive, and more equal society for future generations.