John Updike A

&P And James Joyce’s Araby Essay, Research Paper John Updike’s A & P and James Joyce’s Araby share many of the same literary traits. The primary focus of the two stories revolves around a

&P And James Joyce’s Araby Essay, Research Paper

John Updike’s A & P and James Joyce’s Araby

share many of the same literary traits. The

primary focus of the two stories revolves around a

young man who is compelled to decipher the

different between cruel reality and the fantasies

of romance that play in his head. That the man

does, indeed, discover the difference is what sets

him off into emotional collapse. One of the main

similarities between the two stories is the fact

that the main character, who is also the

protagonist, has built up incredible,yet

unrealistic, expectations of women, having focused

upon one in particular towards which he places all

his unrequited affection. The expectation these

men hold when finally “face to face with their

object of worship” (Wells, 1993, p. 127) is what

sends the final and crushing blow of reality: The

rejection they suffer is far too great for them to


Updike is famous for taking other author’s

works and twisting them so that they reflect a more

contemporary flavor. While the story remains the

same, the climate is singular only to Updike. This

is the reason why there are similarities as well as

deviations from Joyce’s original piece. Plot,

theme and detail are three of the most resembling

aspects of the two stories over all other literary

components; characteristic of both writers’ works,

each rendition offers its own unique perspective

upon the young man’s romantic infatuation. Not

only are descriptive phrases shared by both

stories, but parallels occur with each ending, as

well (Doloff 113). What is even more telling of

Updike’s imitation of Joyce’s Araby is the fact

that the A & P title is hauntingly close in

pronunciation to the original story’s title.

The theme of A & P and Araby are so close to

each other that the subtle differences might be

somewhat imperceptible to the untrained eye. Both

stories delve into the unstable psyche of a young

man who is faced with one of life’s most difficult

lessons: that things are not always as they appear

to be. Telling the tale as a way of looking back

on his life, the protagonist allows the reader to

follow his life’s lessons as they are learned,

imparting upon the audience all the emotional pain

and suffering endured for each one. The primary

focal point is the young man’s love for a

completely unattainable girl who unknowingly riles

the man into such a sexual and emotional frenzy

that he begins to confuse “sexual impulses for

those of honor and chivalry” (Wells, 1993, p. 127).

It is this very situation of self-deception upon

which both stories concentrate that brings the

young man to his emotional knees as he is forced to

“compensate for the emptiness and longing in the

young boy’s life” (Norris 309).

As much as Updike’s rendition is different from

Joyce’s original work, the two pieces are as

closely related as any literary writings can be.

Specifically addressing details, it can be argued

that Updike missed no opportunity to fashion A & P

as much after Araby as possible. For example, one

aspect of womanhood that fascinates and intrigues

both young men is the whiteness of the girls’ skin.

This explicit detail is not to be taken lightly in

either piece, for the implication is integral to

the other important story elements, particularly as

they deal with female obsession. Focusing upon the

milky softness and “the white curve of her

neck”(Joyce 32) demonstrates the overwhelming

interest Joyce’s protagonist place in the more

subtle features; as well, Updike’s character is

equally as enthralled by the sensuality of his

lady’s “long white prima-donna legs” (A & P 188).

One considerable difference between Updike’s A

& P and Joyce’s Araby is the gap between the young

men’s ages, with Updike’s embarking upon his

twenties while Joyce’s is of a significantly more

tender age. This divergence presents itself as one

of the most instrumentally unique aspects

separating the two stories, as it establishes a

considerable variance between the age groups. The

reader is more readily able to accept the fact that

the younger man has not yet gained the ability to

ascertain the complex differences between love’s

reality; on the other hand, it is not as easy to

apply this same understanding to Updike’s older

character, who should by all rights be

significantly more familiar with the ways of the

world by that age. “The lesson that romance and

morality are antithetical, whether learned from

haunting celibates or breathed in with the

chastising Dublin air, has not been lost on the

narrator” (Coulthard 97).

What does not escape either story, however, is

the manner in which the young men are transformed

into “distracted, agitated, disoriented” (Wells,

1993, p. 127) versions of their former selves once

they have become focused upon their respective

objects of affection. Both have lost sight of what

is important within their lives, “with the serious

work of life” (Joyce 32), to see what havoc their

passion is wreaking. It is not important that

everyone around them notices the way they have

withdrawn from reality; rather, they have both come

under a spell of infatuation that pays no mind to

anything but their fixations (Wells, 1993).

Despite their best efforts, neither young man

ultimately wins the heart — or the attention — of

his respective love interest, which Updike’s

character asserts to be “the sad part of the story”

(192). Their gallant rescue attempts aside, the

two men are faced with the grim and shattering

reality that the girls have no desire for their

company. This particular attention to plot is

critical within the two stories, because it

demonstrates how despair can be both disheartening

and uplifting at the same time. Updike’s character

has found himself holding a dollar bill that he

obtained from his lady love, to which he inwardly

acknowledges “it just having come from between the

two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known”


The gifts each young man offered his love

interest are not well received; in fact, it is at

this very moment in each story that the reader

feels the depths of each character’s despair.

While different in origination, the intent was the

same, since both young men come from such diverse

backgrounds; where Joyce’s Irish boy offers a

material gesture, Updike’s American character

offers himself as a shield against any further

antagonizing his lady has endured. This clearly

demonstrates the variance in both materialistic

values and the concepts of what is important to

each young man. To one, offering something

tangible is far more worthwhile than anything else

he could present; to the other, however, extending

his manliness far better suits his attempts to win

the girl’s heart. “The story’s closing moral turns

on itself by concluding with a parabolic maneuver,

by having the narrative consciousness turn itself

into an allegorical figure” (Norris 309).

No matter their efforts, both young men fail

miserably in their attempts to woo their respective

ladies. The similarities between the two stories

with regard to the manner in which each is conveyed

to the reader speak of life’s lessons and the

sometimes painful road one is required to take in

order to gain such experience. With images of

chivalry and romance notwithstanding, both Updike’s

A & P and Joyce’s Araby set forth to impart the

many trials and tribulations associated with love.

“Expressions of emotions and thoughts also show

parallels, including the ending self-revelation and

climax” (Doloff 255).

Coulthard, A.R. “Joyce’s ‘Araby’.,” The

Explicator, vol. 52, (1994) : Winter, pp.97(3).

Doloff, Steven. “Aspects of Milton’s

‘Paradise Lost’ in James Joyce’s ‘Araby’.,”

James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 33, (1995) : Fall,

pp. 113(3).

Doloff, Steven. “Rousseau and the

confessions of ‘Araby’.,” James Joyce

Quarterly, vol.33, (1996) : Winter, pp. 255(4).

Joyce, James. Dubliners. (New York :

Penguin, 1967).

Norris, Margot. “Blind streets and seeing

houses: Araby’s dim glass revisited.,” Studies

in Short Fiction, vol. 32, (1995) : Summer, pp.


Updike, John. “A & P.” Pigeon Feathers and

Other Stories. (New York : Knopf, 1962).

Wells, Walter. “John Updike’s ‘A & P’: a

return visit to Araby.,” Studies in Short

Fiction, vol. 30, (1993) : Spring, pp. 127(7).