In the modern era of the fight against inequality, prejudice, and discriminatory standards, many people remain unaccepted by society, colleagues, or even family members. This problem is even more topical in the second half of the 20th century when Alice Munro, Flannery O’Connor, and John Updike created their prominent short stories. Even though the narratives are rather different, the common idea in Munros “Boys and Girls,” O’Connors “Good Country People,” and Updikes “A&P” is that the main characters are separated from their true selves. In other words, the current essay argues that the short stories mentioned above highlight the burning issue of unacceptance of people whose worldview, mindset, values, or appearance differ from the ones of the majority.
The leitmotif of “Boys and Girls” is gender expectations. In this story, the narrator, a young girl, is fond of working with her father at the fox farm and finds it “ritualistically important” (Munro 4). The narrators fathers labor on the farm is contrasted with the mothers “endless, dreary, and peculiarly depressing” duties as a housewife (Munro 4). The problem that the narrator faces is that everyone, from her parents and brother to strangers on the street, sees her as “only a girl” but not as a person with her interests (Munro 4, 12). Therefore, everyone expects that the narrator would fulfill the expected gender roles: be an obedient mother and wife as she grows up.
The critical problem discussed in Munros story is that gender stereotypes prevented family members from accepting the true nature of the narrator. What is even worse, the girl seems to lose the acceptance of herself. This is evident from the final scene when the narrator cries because of the killed horse while her brother and father conclude that she is just a girl (Munro 12). The protagonist does not even try to defend herself, and this symbolizes that stereotypes and social expectations defended the fundamental interests and the freedom-loving nature of the girl.
One of the critical themes of Flannery O’Connors “Good Country People” is the absence of understanding between a mother and a child. Mrs. Hopewells daughter Joy, who renamed herself Hulga, seems to be speaking in different languages (O’Connor 4). Mrs. Hopewell is a Christian, whereas Hulga is an atheist (O’Connor 12). The unacceptance of Hulga by her mother leads to numerous conflicts and tense relations. Mrs. Hopewell believes that her daughter is talking “strange things,” and for Hulga, in turn, the mothers religiousness is weird (O’Connor 5). Apart from the worldview, another thing that differentiates Hulga from other people in the village is that she lost her leg in an accident in childhood, and now she is wearing a wooden prosthesis.
O’Connors story makes the reader think that the everlasting conflict between Mrs. Hopewell and her daughter stems from the unwillingness of both of them to admit the exitance of an alternative point of view. Each of them supposes that her vision is the only right one. Undoubtedly, Helga does not act like a typical woman because she has never been in love, she does not dream of getting married, and is deeply interested in philosophy (O’Connor 5). Besides, her trauma affected her socialization since she prefers being alone to spending time with other people. Undoubtedly, Helgas peculiarities make it difficult to establish close relationships with her. Nonetheless, “Good Country People” illustrates that sometimes even family members fail to accept the person as he or she is, despite the different views, beliefs, interests, and priorities.
The third story, “A&P,” written by John Updike, raises the question of acceptance in the workforce. The author of the present essay believes that, in this case, the problem of acceptance is closely related to the topic of hypocrisy and sycophancy. This opinion grounded on the fact that the protagonist, Sammy, who works in the store “A&P,” does not react appropriately to the stores manager Lengel, reprimanding three young girls who entered the store in bathing suits. Sammy tried to defend these girls and, thus, lost his job (Updike 3). At this point, it is interesting to notice that his deed had no sense because girls went away and hardly knew what had happened.
Neither Sammy nor the manager does not understand the motives of his actions. Still, Saldivar argues that Updike depicted Sammy as a romantic with a delicate sense of beauty and honor (Saldivar 224). Updikes story tells the readers that acceptance in the workforce depends on the strict adherence to local rules, norms, regulations, and, of course, the word of the managerial personnel. The workers are not expected to express their emotions and feelings; the only thing they should do is complete the assigned tasks. From one point of view, this means that workers should neglect their true selves during the shift. At the same time, it remains unclear whether Lengels criticism of the girls was relevant.
To conclude, the three short stories discussed above are entirely different in terms of their plots. Nevertheless, they address the common problem of acceptance from various perspectives. From all of the narratives, it becomes evident that society and, in some cases, even relatives are not willing to accept people with distinctive worldviews. In turn, society breaks such individualists and makes them adjust to the will of the majority because this way, it becomes easier to survive in society even though the price for survival is own identity.
Saldivar, Toni. “The art of John Updike’s” A&P”.” Studies in Short Fiction 34.2 (1997): 215-225.
Munro, Alice. Boys and Girls. 1968. Web.
O’Connor, Flannery. Good Country People. 1955. Web.
Updike, John. A&P. 1962. Web.