The Theme of Education in “Girl” and “A&P”
Education or the lack of it is perhaps the one thing that can make or break someone. With education one can reach success and good image in society as stated in educationJamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.” On the other hand, without education, one will certainly bring disaster upon himself as in John Updike’s “A&P.” Both stories are American literary masterpieces that emphasize the value of education. However, “Girl” and “A&P” differ in three aspects: First, “Girl” generally focuses on the simple instructions of how a woman should live well in society while “A&P” focuses on the disadvantages of being educated and uneducated; second, “Girl” emphasizes conformity while “A&P” talks of the stifling of freedom; and lastly, while “Girl” emphasizes only prostitution as a probable consequence of a lack of education, “A&P” hints at ignorance, early marriage, poor employment and hubris.
The Differences between “Girl” and “A&P”
First of all, “Girl” differs from “A&P” in that while the first is purely instructional, the second one is an ordinary prose that is somehow focused on the implied disadvantages of both being educated and uneducated. In “Girl,” the narrator, who is supposedly the girl’s mother, gives her instructions on how to live life as a good woman. Two of the most important pieces of advice the mother gives include “this is how to love a man” (Kincaid 645) and “this is how to bully a man” (Kincaid 645). Somehow, these two lines imply how difficult and complicated getting married is as well as becoming a good woman. On the other hand, “A&P” is not made up of instructions but is rather focused on the disadvantages of being educated. When Sammy says, “Policy is what the kingpins want” (Updike 17) as Lengel drives away the girls, he implies that educated people become domineering and use policy to their advantage. Also, “A&P” implies the disadvantage of being uneducated when Sammy himself, in his pride and impulsiveness, quits his job only to regret it minutes later.
And if one has pride and impulsiveness, it means he does not want to conform. “Girl” emphasizes the idea of conformity while “A&P” emphasizes the stifling of freedom. In “Girl,” the mere fact that the narrator, or perhaps the mother, continuously instructs the girl on how to behave in society and how to survive married life is a sign that a education is all about conformity. On the other hand, in “A&P”, education, according to Sammy, means dehumanization in that even if he “could set off dynamite in an A&P” (Updike 15-16), the customers, who he presumes to be educated, will not even hear it. Moreover, in “A&P”, the educated are described as kingpins or people who rather use their education to take advantage of the uneducated, thus stifling their freedom.
However, the fact that the educated are labeled as kingpins is nothing compared to the labels of the undeducated which include slut, ignoramus, and so on. “Girl” presents only one deadly consequence of the lack of education and that is prostitution. Several times in the series of instructions, the narrator or mother describes the girl as “the slut that [she is] bent on becoming” (Kincaid 644) and even hints at the possibility of her prostitute daughter having to abort an unwanted child when she says “this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child” (Kincaid 645). On the other hand, in “A&P,” pure ignorance seems to be one consequence of a lack of education as seen in the girls who enter A&P in bikinis. Moreover, the mention of Stokesie being only twenty-two and “married, with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already” (Updike 16) implies that being uneducated leads to early marriage. Poor employment is also another possible negative effect of a lack of education as when Sammy sarcastically says that the only chance for Stokesie to become manager is when A&P becomes “the Great Alexandrov & Petrooshki Tea Company” (Updike 16), which is actually a very unlikely name that corresponds to such an unlikely promotion. Last but not the least, hubris, specifically Sammy’s hubris – and this is perhaps the worst of all consequences of a lack of education. When the girls walk out of the store, Sammy quits his job but he does this “hoping [the girls will] stop and watch [him], their unsuspected hero” (Updike 18). In the end, he regrets his impulsiveness when he says, “I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter” (Updike 19). The emphasis on hubris towards the last part of the story somehow imply that uneducated people usually show off in the effort to make up for their actual lack of confidence in themselves.
“Girl” and “A&P” differ in three ways. The first concerns the form of the story which means that “Girl” is purely instructional while “A&P” is a story that implicitly exposes the disadvantages of both being educated and uneducated. The second difference is on the emphasis as “Girl” is emphasizes conformity while in “A&P,” it is the stifling of freedom. Lastly, on the subject of the consequences of the lack of education, while “Girl” tells us it is prostitution, “A&P” speaks of ignorance, early marriage, poor employment, and stupidity in the form of hubris.
Kincaid, Jamaica. “Girl.” Men and Centuries of European Civilization. Ed. John Gray. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1948. Print.
Updike, John. “A&P.” Who’s Who in the Middle Ages: From the Collapse of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. Ed. John Gray. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1970. Print.