Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A & P

Female nakedness seems to be the theme of the day for me; I blogged about it in Plath, it's in Sexton as well ("waved my nude arms" ["Her Kind" 16]), and now, we have the semi-naked bikini girls of John Updike's classic story, "A & P."

In all cases, the nakedness seems to be related to power.  In "A & P," the leader of the bikini-clad trio is consistently referred to as a queen, and the discussion between her and the store manager at the end is nothing if not a power play.  The narrator's feeble/misguided attempt to "save" this girl by quitting his job seems motivated by chivalry--and yet, we know, too, that his interest in these girls has everything to do with their sexuality.

I kept thinking about this story as a commentary on the ways men watch and conceive women.  Because the story is filtered through this narrator, we are locked into his view, and yet at the same time we're looking through his eyes, the voice of the character is so distinct that it continually reminds me of the distance between me and the way I see the world comparative to him the way he sees the world. 

Did anyone else notice that at the end, when the girls have gone and his manager states that the girls have embarrassed the store, the narrator writes:

I started to say something that came out "Fiddle-de-doo." It's a saying of my grand-mother's, and I know she would have been pleased.

Right smack dab in the moment of his chivalrous, super-male act, he quotes his grandmother.  Did this strike anyone else as odd?  What did you make of it?  Or of the fact that his father has put him into this position (job) in the first place--is this a statement about the legacy of previous generations on how men and women relate to one another?  Isn't convention being put smack up against a younger, more flexible (if still deeply sexist) world view?

Coming back to the idea of nakedness, when is it OK for women to be in swimsuits?  Why is partial nakedness acceptable in one location and absurd in another?  What social conventions dictate this and should we reconsider them?

So many questions to ponder...

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