John Updike And Individualism John Updike wrote many books and short stories. Many of his characters resembled people he knew or they reflected his views on what was going on in America (Interview 75-79). They expressed his views on the value system that people lived by. One of these ideas was individualism. Individualism has not always been present in society. Up until the late 1960s, people accepted whatever was happening around them. Very few stood up for themselves or for others.
Many people wished to, but were too afraid to speak up. They had to find other ways of expressing what they really thought. John Updikes idea of individuality expressed through the character of Sammy, in “A&P,” closes the gap between the 1950s value system and today. To be an individual is characterized by many things. An individual knows how to think for themselves.
They strive for independence and put their needs in front of others. If something is considered, “the thing to do,” they will steer in the opposite direction. An individual wants to be seen differently from the rest of society. They want to have uniqueness unlike any other. Conformists, on the other hand, are people who thrive on being accepted.
They wear the trendy clothes and put a groups best interest ahead of their own. They act in whatever way is acceptable to the group they wish to be apart of. Conformists tell people what they want to hear rather than speaking their own mind. They are prisoners within themselves. They are monotonous and carry on the same way day in and day out. Conformists are amusing due to their lack of thought. Sammy recognizes this when he refers to the shoppers as, “The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle” (Literature 13).
In the late 1950s, individuality was rarely seen. People wanted to be just like their neighbors. They moved into houses identical to those all around them. Men always wore suits and ties and women wore dresses. People did everything to please society and keep their status equal with those amongst them (Stata 1-2). Communism was a scare to our country during this time.
No one wanted their neighbor to think they were a communist. This added to their desire to be accepted. If they were not accepted they would be, not just disliked, but ostracized. Due to this, they all became conformists. They lived by the silent laws of conformity, which pushed for everyone to be the same.
“Conformity was the measure of popularity as well as moral rightness” (Short 6). In todays society individualism is greatly enforced. We have been told since our sandbox days to be different. Do something new and exciting to get recognition. We want notability for ourselves. We dont want to be like the guy next door. The American Dream has changed since the 1950s.
Today people strive to be rich. They want to be able to top their friends and family when it comes to material. Money is what matters. Each person has to try a new way to achieve this dream of money, which pushes him or her to seek individuality. This will help them learn what makes them different and use it to rise above.
The value system of today lets people grow within themselves. It does not hold them back as it did in the 1950s. As Updike once said, “Something quite nice has happened to the American spirit” (Interview 78). Sammy was definitely an individual. He stood up for what he believed in and never backed down.
He didnt care what his boss thought in regards to his quitting. He was making a statement. This was very uncommon in the 1950s. People did not quit their jobs over a decision made by a superior that had no affect on them, but Sammy did. He quit because he felt that the treatment the girls received was unnecessary. He also put forth his individualism when his boss questioned what he said.
He could have easily taken back his words. Instead he went through with quitting his job. In his eyes, “Once you begin a gesture, its fatal not to go through with it” (Literature 16). Updike knew well of the 1950s and all the good and bad that came from that decade since he lived through it. He never knew that how he had Sammy think, act, and feel would be how the teenagers of the future would be.
Sammys character in “A&P” showed the type of person that the teenagers of today have been pushed to be. Updike never knew his character was a foreshadowing of the choices a generation soon to come would make (Short 11). Bibliography “A&P.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama 7/e. Eds. Rossi, Patricia, Lisa Moore, Katherine Glynn, and Donna Campion. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc, 1999.
12-16. “A&P.” Short Stories for Students. Wilson, Kathleen. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1998. Vol 3.
1-21. “Interview with John Updike.” Conversations with John Updike. Plath, James. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1994. 74-83.
Stata, Raymie. “What is Individualism.” www.vix.com. http://www.vix.com/objectivism/Writing/RaymieStata /WhatIsIndividualism.html.