John Updike’s Portrayal of Individualism vs. Conformity in Society

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A society consists of a community of people living together and sharing customs and traditions. Once immersed in this society, one can begin to see certain standards woven into the social fabric of the community. These standards, ranging from not walking into public areas scantily clad to not embarrassing people in front of others, are usually unspoken and sometimes cause strife. Young adults often find these standards to be extremely restricting and favor freedom of action over the collective control. Commonly known as individualism, this social theory is very alive in the hearts and actions of young adults and never quite leaves a human as he or she grows older and “matures.” In middle class, Protestant America individualism is subverted …show more content…
In a continuing attempt to reveal this societal conflict, Updike introduces the character of Lengel, the manager. He accosts the girls and starts to make a scene accusing them of being indecent: “‘Girls, I don’t want to argue with you. After this come in here with your shoulders covered. It’s our policy.’ He turns his back. That’s policy for you. Policy is what the kingpins want. What others want is juvenile delinquency” (Updike, 600). When the store manager confronts three girls in swimsuits because of their indecency (lack of proper clothes), they are forced to leave humiliated. At this moment Sammy makes the choice to quit his job in protest of the manager’s handling of the situation. In his mind, and arguably in John Updike’s mind, the standards of walking into a grocery store in a bathing suit and humiliating someone in front of other people are both unacceptable. This part of the story is pivotal for one main reason: a voice in the business community is speaking. As a manager at A & P, Lengel is the voice of The Establishment and guards the community ethics (Porter, 321). Queenie’s (the ringleader of the girls) blush is what moves Sammy to action. Here are three girls who came in from the beach to purchase only one thing, and this kingpin is embarrassing them in order to maintain an aura of morality, decency,
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