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As we close our unit on short fiction this week, you will respond to a series of questions on Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (p. 303).  After reading the story, take the time to craft thoughtful, supported, complete answers to questions 2-11 on page 105, “Critical Questions for Reading the Short Story.”  The following is an example of what your responses should look like.  This is question #1 as applied to John Updike’s “A&P” on page 358.

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Sample Response:

1.)   Who is the main character? Does this person’s character change during the course of the story? Do you feel sympathetic toward the main character? What sort of person is she or he? Does this character have a foil?

In John Updike’s “A & P,” the main character is our narrator, Sammy, an 18-year-old checker at the local A & P supermarket. This story marks a changing moment in his young life, an awakening and awareness about conformity, as he shifts from complaining in his observations to action and open rebellion against following the mindless rules that dictate his environment and govern his larger society. I feel I can identity rather than sympathize in some ways with Sammy, and Updike wants the reader to feel some connection to him rather than be a “sheep” like the other customers; the narrative style (first person point of view), allows us to see things through Sammy’s eyes, and he does not hesitate to point out everything he is noticing. He is honest in his descriptions to his reader; for instance, he tells us one of the girls, “…the one in the plaid green two-piece[,] She was a chunky kid, with a good tan…” (Updike 440). But he is also seeing things through rose-colored glasses (or rather, an 18-year-old boy’s glasses), causing the reader to sometimes question his reliability; he continues in his description of the girl, “…and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it…”, showing us what his mind prefers to see (440).

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Sammy feels like a very stereotypically nearly 19 year-old male, and the simplicity of his town and job allow the reader to see this as an ordinary and typical day, a Thursday afternoon that could easily play out similarly for any of us. Within the first paragraph, he shows us how distracted and consumed he is by these three half-naked girls: “I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not” (440). He calls the customer frustrated with his distraction and resulting mistake a “witch,” one who “they would have burned her over in Salem,” demonstrating his exaggeration and immature frustration with a customer’s indignant yet harmless reaction (440). That interaction is only the tip of the iceberg that is his rebellious or nascent rebellious and non-conformist spirit. He’s just beginning to tap into it.

The most evident foil set up to contrast Sammy would be his manager, Lengel, who Sammy describes as “pretty dreary” and like a “Sunday-school-superintendent” (445). Unlike Sammy, Lengel takes his job and the unspoken rules of decorum in their society, represented by the A & P, very seriously. At one point, Sammy even describes him as acting as though Lengel thought he was the “head lifeguard” of the “great big dune” of their A & P (445). Sammy, on the other hand, is coming of age and coming to the realization that he does not want to have to play by these same mundane rules and traditionalist mentalities of the 1950s and 60s that Lengel subscribes to.

*Cite from the story!  Show me that you have read the story and are citing material that is important to the work, and also helps support your responses. Short, incomplete, vague or general answers will be marked down.

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