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Essay on Feminist and Psychoanalytic Criticisms based on A&P

From the short story of A&P by John Updike, the main criticisms that are going to be highlighted in this essay are from the feminist and psychoanalytic perspectives. Feminist criticism is a type of literary criticism, which may study and advocate the rights of women (Lombardi, n.d.). In A&P, not only the girls in bathing suits are looked upon as sex objects, but other women are negatively viewed as witches, farm animals, or slaves. This story is about how a young man in the early 1960s viewed women as a whole and how he reacted upon them. Kirszner and Mandell (2007: 2095) states that psychoanalytic criticism focuses on a work of literature as an expression in fictional form of the inner workings of the human mind. The premises and procedures used in psychoanalytic criticism were developed by Sigmund Freud. In the story, the psychoanalytic criticism refers to a teenager psychology. This is portrayed in the characteristics of Sammy who is the main character in A&P. He shows the common characteristics of teenager. These include teenagers mostly show high tendency to rebel and they tend to be irrational, besides like to show off and make excuses. In this story, women are described as houseslaves. Honore de Balzac (17991850:169) stated that woman is a slave whom we must be clever enough to set upon a throne. The term housewives should be used instead of houseslaves. Womens role in 1960s was to take care of the family. Hence, woman is supposed to be treated as a life partner, not slave. Women should not been underestimated by the society as they sacrifice a lot to the family. They should be treasured by the family and society. In A&P, women represent the immoral in society. Frailty, thy name is woman (Shakespeare, 1564-1616). This shows how men underestimated women then. In this story, the three girls in bathing suits in the A&P exhibited human frailty as they dressed indecently and walked into A&P. This can be seen in Updike (1961: 230), In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits. However, the immoral behaviour of men is not highlighted much in the story as this story was narrated by a man. The perception of Sammy towards the three girls and the old woman was different. Sammy admired Queenies physical appearance as she was a young woman while he labelled the other, an old woman a witch. The flaw in society should not be pointed towards women solely.
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Women are characterised as animals. It is common to describe women as animals at that time. Horace Walpole (1717-1797: 169) had similar perception when he described Mary Wollstonecraft as a hyena in petticoats. Stereotypically, the women in A&P are exemplified as sheep in the lines The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle (Updike, 1961: 230). Women are not supposed to be labelled as animals as they are also human beings. It is inhumane to equalise women to animals. Women are considered as brainless. This can be seen when Woolf (1919: 172) asserted that women are seen as intellectually inferior to men. He declares that men have and continue to treat women as inferiors. In A&P, Sammy underestimated Queenies thought when he said You never know for sure how girls minds work (do you really think its a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glassjar? (Updike, 1961: 230). This shows that Sammy is not very interested in the way a female thinks or feels, but only in how she looks. Unlike the past, women are now highly educated. They are on par with men. In fact, some women are better off than men. In that era, women are taken as second class in the society. Charles Darwin (1809-1882:171) stated that women are of a characteristic ofa past and lower state of civilization. In A&P, Lengel represents the aggressive man with hierarchical power in his position as Manager. He verbally attacked the girls and embarrassed them. It was a common belief that women were supposed to give in to the men. Differing to the past, women will not accept such treatment as gender equality is more prevalent today. Now, women are more outspoken as they are highly educated. In addition, there are laws enforced to protect womens rights and organisations which strive for womens equality. In this story, women are seen as sex objects. Landau (2009) asserts that men perceive women in sexy bathing suits as objects rather than human beings. The three girls in A&P are described in bathing suits. Sammy described the vivid details of the girls body figures. Sammy has no problem admiring Queenies chest and comparing them to the two smoothest cups of vanilla. Sammy called the other girl as GoonyGoony just because he was intimidated by her height and body feature. It seems that the female value is located solely in the desirable body, where a flaw in female beauty lessens the female worth. In contrast to the past, if the same thing happened today, it is considered as sexual harassment and women can take appropriate action.
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In psychoanalytic criticism, it is stated that teenagers are likely to rebel, usually against the adults. This can be seen from second model of the human psyche called economic model, introduced by Sigmund Freud. The model consists of two new concepts which are the pleasure and the reality principles. The pleasure principles crave only pleasures and instantaneous satisfaction of instinctual drives, ignoring moral and sexual boundaries established by society (Freud, 1981: 144). In A&P, Sammy rebels against Lengel who is his manager. He quits his job without considering the consequences of his action. He does that when he is very angry with Lengel as he thinks Lengel embarasses the three girls in bathing suits. Youll feel this for the rest of your life, Lengel says, and I know it is true too, but remembering how he made that pretty girl blush makes me so scrunchy inside I punch the No Sale tab and the machine whirs pee-pul and the drawer splats out (Updike, 1961: 233). Sammy shows his rebel against Lengel for embarassing the three girls. Therefore, he quits his job as he intends to show his protest against Lengels action. Teenagers normally tend to be irrational. For example, they are irrational in making major decision in their lives. Based on dynamic model of human psyche our minds consisting of the conscious (rational) and unconscious (irrational) (Freud, 1981: 144). In A& P, Sammy quits his job for a silly reason which is to defend Queenie and the other two girls. Did you say something, Sammy? I said I quit You didnt have to embarrass them. It was they who embarrassing us. (Updike, 1961: 233). These lines show that he quits his job because he is influenced by his irrational mind or thought. In addition, teenagers usually like to show off. For instance, they tend to show off to be noticed by the opposite gender. From typographical model, there are three parts of human psyche which are the conscious, preconscious and unconscious (Freud, 1981: 145). The unconscious part represents the repressed hungers, images, thoughts and desires of human nature. In A&P, Sammy is willing to sacrifice his job, hoping the girls to notice him as their hero. The girls, and whod blame them, are in hurry to get out, so I say I quit to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping theyll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero. (Updike, 1961: 234). This evidence displays that teenagers usually wanted to be noticed by others, particularly by the opposite gender. Hence, they

tend to show off by doing something unsual. They wanted to be popular, especially among their peers. Teenagers like to make excuses, especially to escape from anything which does not please them. The tripartite model of human psyche divides the psyche into three parts which are the id, ego and superego. The irrational, instinctual, unknown, and unconscious part of the psyche Freud calls the id. The id contains our secret desires, darkest wishes and most intense fears. It wishes only to fulfill the urges of the pleasure principle (Freud, 1981: 144). In A&P, Sammy makes his quarrel with Lengel as an excuse for him to quit his job. He gets fed up with his job as a cashier at A&P and wishes to change his boring life into something different and more outstanding. The store s pretty empty, it being Thursday afternoon, so there was nothing much except lean on the register and wait for the girls to show up again. (Updike, 1961: 230). This shows that Sammy is completely bored with his workplace and his daily activities at A&P. Moreover, he is tired of seeing the same type of people who come to his store, which are the housewives with many kids. In conclusion, womens appearances and capabilities should not been underestimated by the society. They cannot be simply depicted and classified as either witches, farm animals, or slaves. Erroneous ways of thinking towards women must be corrected. Sammys perspective of women in the 60s, however, is not relevant today. The psychoanalytic criticism emphasizes the influence of the unconscious mind on behaviour. It helps readers to understand the attitude and action of the narrator in this story. Sammys attitude such as rebellious, irrational, and showing off has develop the story of A&P well and makes it more interesting.