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Conflict in Literature Across Generations

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Conflict in Literature Across Generations

Whether conflict manifests in families, amongst friends, strangers, or even within one soul the theme runs through many of the greatest works in literature. A few authors whose works demonstrate the theme of conflict are John Updike, Jane Chopin, Langston Hughes and Alice Walker. Conflict is evident in many works by these authors.

"A & P" by John Updike (p.32), is the story of a young man named Sammy who works at a local supermarket in a small New England town in the 1960s. Having just turned nineteen, Sammy is just finding his voice and trying to question authority and make his own decisions based on what he sees, hears, and feels rather than what others think. His conflict manifests in an encounter one summer day in the grocery store in which he works. The conflict, on first glance, is between Sammy, his boss, and three young girls who enter the store - though he never speaks to the girls directly.

Three girls come into the store, the A&P, and all Sammy can think about is how they are dressed in only bikinis - much too scantily for the time or place. He comes off as a typically hormonal teenaged boy with a smart mouth. The manager, Lengel, tells the girls they need to dress more "decently" and shames them in front of other patrons lining up in Sammy's checkout lane. Sammy may seem to be the knight in shining armor when he quits his job over Lengel's comments, but it's easy to see that he is more concerned with his own motives and over-driven hormones than actually defending the girls' honor. Once he walks out and doesn't find the girls waiting in the parking lot for him, he realizes what a mistake he's just made in giving up what's been a fairly easy position because of

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lust. However, the story also reflects the conflict of young people with their upbringing and environment in general.

A major "character" of the story, however, is the town itself. The A&P supermarket serves as a symbol of the entire town's strict, bland, and ordered culture. In the store and the town, everything looks as it should look, is placed where it should be placed, and is starkly plain and structured (p.34). Anything that goes against the grain, like the girls in bikinis, is seen as an offense to the sensibilities of the quaint little town and it's stoic people. Sammy has led a fairly privileged life in this small town, getting an easy job through his parent's friend, Mr. Lengel, and has given it all up for girls he'd never even spoken to. It would be interesting to hear the rest of Sammy's life story.

"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin tells about a woman living in the 1800's who suffers from a heart condition, and the sudden death of her husband. Mrs. Mallard's conflict occurs internally - without notice by anyone else - as she discovers freedom through her husband's passing. Louise Mallard wasn't happy in her marriage, but we don't see that at the beginning of the story. Despite others' fear for her reaction to the news, the author says, "She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance." (p.38). When she is told of his sudden death, she breaks down in sobs immediately. She then retreats to her room where she begins to reflect on the true "significance" of his death. Her mourning turns to something resembling joy when she realizes that she is free of her husband's control. She

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says to herself, "Free! Body and soul free!" (p. 40) as the realization dawns on her. Given the time in which the story was written - in the late 1800's - Louise was like most wives

at that time, stuck at home doing all of the menial work, with no income of her own, and completely under her husband's thumb. The fact that the author says Mrs. Mallard "often" (p. 40) didn't love her husband indicates that she certainly wasn't really happy in her marriage. She couldn't just walk away, no matter how miserable she might be. A woman back then didn't have the means to do so. Her only escape was his death, and she quickly realizes that her husband's death ultimately brings her joy.

When Louise finally leaves her room, almost giddy with the possibilities that she has dreamt up for her future sans husband, she "carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory" (p. 41), with her arm around her sister's waist, as they descend the stairs. As they reach the bottom, someone opens the door. It is her husband, who is very much alive and well, and was nowhere near the accident, which was said to have killed him. Poor Louise, who had in those few minutes developed a sense of freedom and happiness she hadn't known, drops dead at the sight of him - her dreams dead along with her.

Both of these stories are about human reaction to negative occurrences and the conflicts that are produced in various situations. Sammy's reaction to the girls being thrown out of the store and Louise's reaction to her husbands death - and "resurrection". We also see how young people can be influenced, for good or bad, by observations of adults, and the internal struggle that often wages within a person during a difficult

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situation. Sammy saw another world outside his bubble of home and the supermarket and Louise saw a world of freedom without her husbands - despite the fact that they both "should have" been upset at their losses.

In "The Story of an Hour" we see how Louise, like Sammy, also sees a world outside of the



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