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Critical Analysis of A&P and The Lone Ranger

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The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven written by Sherman Alexie and A&P written by John Updike are stories that represent the social constraint’s felt by each of the protagonists. Alexie’s story and Updike’s story complement each other in their context and have a very similar theme. Alexie’s story is about a young man who is held down by the racial indifferences he has encountered throughout his life. In turn, these indifferences have caused distrust and a subtle hatred towards whites and authority figures. Victor, the protagonist of the story, makes references to the indifferences felt through the allusion and symbolism in the story. The representation of the symbolism and the interpretation used shows that Sherman himself is using his writing as a means to come to terms with these deep-rooted feelings. In Updike’s story, the tone is not as dark and dismal as Alexie’s, though there is a similarity in the context. A&P represents a young man who is tired of being oppressed by the mundane routines of life. The protagonist in this story sees his life passing him by as he works at a grocery market. The epiphany is realized and comes to light when three young women come into the store wearing nothing but bathing suits.

The symbolism and allusion the writer uses in this story also signifies the repressed emotions of feeling trapped by the pressures that society has placed on him. Both stories connect on a thematic level which is the feeling of being held back by social constraints. However, these stories side by side each delivers different messages to the reader, and the allegory message of each story differs. The theme of A&P is cultivated and developed throughout the story. Updike’s use of allusive symbols helps deliver his message. The story may seem as a pivotal work of fiction and at first glance can appear to be straight forward. Though John Updike’s use of allusion broadens the spectrum of the story, giving the piece a deeper meaning. Sammy, the narrator, tells the story in first person and the scene and events that transpire can elude the reader. The reader’s attention can become fixed on the story itself and the girls gallivanting throughout the store. The contextual words that Updike gives using allusion and symbolism can be misinterpreted, and the reader can miss the idea.

The theme is conformity; Sammy’s feeling of becoming trapped and suffocated by the mundane duties of being a grocery store clerk. Conformity is the key here; every symbol given throughout the story reveals the theme revolves around conformity. One example is Sammy’s feelings towards the average customers he deals with on a day to day. Sammy refers to them as sheep, quoted from the story Sammy states: “The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle…” Sammy’s reference to the shoppers as sheep is just one example that Updike uses to express the protagonist’s feelings. Updike’s use of figurative language elucidates the pressure he felt at the time he wrote this piece. Alexie’s story is quite different in terms of content, but overall the theme is very similar. In the story the protagonist Victor is also a victim of the pressures of society, he feels the need to adjust and assimilate to the world around him. Alexie’s character is a Native American, and it seems everything that goes wrong in his life can be attributed to his ethnicity.

His unwillingness to assimilate to the “white man’s” world leaves him in peril and psychologically discontent. The stresses Victor feels is also a representation of the stresses Alexie feels and this is translated into his writing. Alexie’s use of figurative speech, allusion and symbolism, reveals that this stories theme revolves around conformity as well. The tone of this story is not as cynical and comedic as Updike’s but the theme and content contrast each other well. On one side of the spectrum, the character is understanding of the world around him and realizes that there are inequalities. On the other hand, the character dislikes his perception of the social standards and hates that he has to conform. This leads to his feeling that he has an inability to adapt, and this attributes to his feelings of mistrust and being seen as a miscreant. What makes these two stories very powerful and brings the allegory message to light is the writer’s use of symbolism and allusion. Both authors artfully crafted these stories to describe their feelings and the symbolism, allusion; figurative speech conveyed a deeper, richer meaning behind them.

For instance, the title of Alexie’s story is a very powerful metaphor and is an excellent example of the allusion used. Alexie uses the Lone Ranger to represent society (the white man’s society); the Lone Ranger is a strong and powerful figure that is in a battle with Tonto. Tonto is Alexie or Victor; Tonto’s representations are the non-conformist. The fight between these two characters represents the battle that the protagonist is in. Victor is fighting assimilation and conforming to the social standards of white America and is trying to stay true to his Native roots. This campaign is overwhelming and leads to the main character to have dreams about this struggle. This overwhelming feeling of distrust is the catalyst that causes Victor so much dismay. Alexie expresses this in the story multiple times one of the most viable examples is from this quote. “Sometimes I wonder if the people on the other end of the line know that I’m Indian and if their voices would change if they did know.”

In that line Victor is talking about a job he just took at a local high school, Alexie uses this line to show Victor’s willingness to assimilate. Victor has a hard time doing this because his emotions and distrust keep him from truly conforming. The story delivers a powerful allegory message to the reader. Alexie tells the reader through his metaphors and allusion that no matter how hard Native Americans try to adjust or conform they will never be accepted as equals. John Updike’s allegory message in A&P express a different morale, but it ties back to the theme of conformity. Sammy’s first person narration helps deliver the non-conformist message, which Updike was writing about. Sammy sees the other characters in the story being trapped and bounded by the market; he realize that he does not want to fall into the same trap the others have. Updike gives a clear example of when Sammy briefly talks about the character Stokesie.

Stokesie is around Sammy’s age and already married with children, Sammy explains that Stokesie’s has a dream of becoming manager one day, this only solidifies the non-conformist allegory message and reinforces the argument. Conformity is a major social issue that all walks of society have to deal with; the two authors expressed their views on the subject through the stories. This trait to follow the crowd has benefited humans for thousands of years, humans originally did this to keep themselves safe from danger. Following the actions of other human beings have kept humans alive, and allowed them to be accepted and maintain social status.

Although as this behavior evolved it had developed into what is considered to be social norms. Now anyone who deviates from what is considered to be a social norm can have an adverse effect on one’s psychological health and social standing. The primary theme revolving around both stories was the characters dealing with their emotions, and ultimately dealing with the consequences of choice. In an essay called “Social structure and the effects of conformity,” written by Kevin James. He Claims that “It is well known that humans will readily conform to the wishes or beliefs of others. It was perhaps a surprise when Solomon Asch (1955, 1956) found that people will do this even in cases where they can obviously determine that others are incorrect.”

To deviate from the structure and effects of conformity as mentioned caused the two protagonist in each of the stories to reevaluate their social standing, this led them into the paradigm they faced at the end of the both stories. John Updike and Sherman Alexie both wrote profound short stories that delivered a message on the issues two different groups of people faced. The language used in the stories did not make it blatantly obvious, but through figurative speech, allusion and metaphors the message was received. Both stories centered around a common idea, which was conformity. The characters in these stories gave an insight into the minds of two great authors and showed how they dealt with their stresses through language.

To conform or not to conform was the central idea that complimented both of these pieces so well. In retrospective both of these shorts can be analyzed again and again leading the reader down a different path each time. That is what makes these two stories great pieces of literature, there is always more interpretations that can be done. The stories were left open for interpretation for a reason and the authors knew how to leave the reader wanting more. It was a pleasure trying to decipher the language used in these stories and it helped by giving an analysis of these stories.

Works Cited


Alexie, Sherman. “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” Gardner, Lawn, Ridl, Schakel. Literature (A Portable Anthology). Boston: Bedford St.Martins, 2013. 402-407. Print. James, Kevin. “Social structure and the effects of conformity.” Zollman, Kevin James and Spears. Synthese. Dordrecht: Springer Science & Business Media, 2010. 317-340. Print. <http://ezproxy.canyons.edu:2048/login?url=http://ezproxy.canyons.edu:2125/docview/807427937?accountid=38295>. Updike, John. “A&P.” Gardner, Lawn, Ridl, Schakel. Literature (A Portable Anthology). Boston: Bedford
St.Martins, 2013. 294-299. Print.

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