Literary Comparison

The tone in the short story “A & P” by John Updike concerns a certain type of oxymoron between the story “sonny’s blues” by James Baldwin. In the story “A & P” the protagonist, Sam, is a cashier in an A & P store with a selfish manager with an unnegotiable flaw of pride named Lengel. When three girls with bathing suits walk inside the store Lengel acts ungenerous towards the three girls because of their appearance. Ironically the beach is minutes away from the store. Lengel’s actions triggers Sam to stand up for the girls yet this causes Sam to quit. Finally, Sam walks out the store looking for the girls yet they were far gone. On the other hand, in the story “Sonny’s Blues” the protagonist does not have a name, yet we can view him as Sonny’s brother. The protagonist is an algebra teacher. He has constant fights with his brother about his heroin addiction yet he tries to resolve things throughout time finally he does so when he gets invited by his brother Sonny to a small club to watch him play jazz as a pianist. It is only through Sonny’s struggle with the music when the protagonist realizes Sonny’s struggle with life. Although both stories are completely different from each other, they both contain similarities that inhibit within the character’s actions resulting in epiphanies, antagonist force that kept the characters inactive from achieving their goals, and the motivation that triggered the risk taking actions behind the protagonists’ minds.


In the story “A & P”, Sam becomes a changed man when he quits his job. This allows him to demonstrate an epiphany by visualizing his old work store, “Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through.” Also in the story “Sonny’s Blues” the protagonist, sonny’s brother, is faced with a stunning realization that leads him to have sympathy to his brother. To illustrate, “it was clear, that for them, I was only Sonny’s brother. Here, I was in Sonny’s world. Or rather: his kingdom. Here, it was not even a question that his veins bore royal blood”. This quote demonstrates that Sonny’s brother is realizing his situation or life position. This allows the protagonist to accept Sonny’s lifestyle and that Sonny himself is a great character after all. Furthermore, both stories contain an epiphany within the protagonists; the stories have similar realizations within the story plot. This comparison portrays through the protagonist state of mind.

To inform, modern society has had many modern realizations leading to problems the human being has never encountered due to modern life. This is viewed in the stories of how the conflicts become the main realization at the end. For example “A & P”.


The stories also contain motivational symbolism that triggers them to overcome their fears and motivating them to overcome the fears. For example, in the story “A & P” the protagonist remained with the struggle of dealing with is evil manager until the three girls arrived. The girls can be viewed as a symbol of hope for Sam, and the way he describes them. Such as 
“She didn’t look around, not this queen, she just walked straight on slowly, on these long white prima donna legs. She came down a little hard on her heels, as if she didn’t walk in her bare feet that much, putting down her heels and then letting the weight move along to her toes as if she was testing the floor with every step”
This states that Sam views the girls, or at least one of the girls, as attractive or a new feeling that brings him bravery into his life. Showing a sign of motivation.

Shopping for Insight in John Updike’s “A & P”

The 60’s fashion or swimsuit style that the three girls in “A & P” that morally convinced Sam to quit his job. The motivation of the girls ultimately leads him to become a false hero gaining nothing yet its own freedom.

To compare, in the story “Sonny’s Blues” the protagonist sees the music that Sonny plays as a symbol of internal hope in Sonny’s life. The internal hope motivates Sonny and the protagonist to feel a sense of relief. To prove, “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we must be heard. There isn’t other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness”. The simple structure that indicates the reader as light in the quote is referring to the music Sonny is playing. This caused the protagonist to be mentally relief knowing that Sonny has now some light in all his darkness.

Music video by 
Last Minute Musicians

This video takes the reader back in time to see some of the great music created during the 1960’s. The video shows positive vibes in which could technically influence the character to overcome his problems. Proving that music can be a motivating factor that pushes a character.

Antagonist Force

What caused the characters to be in an uncomfortable state? This can be views as the rising action or antagonist force pushing through every nerve creating an external enemy with the protagonist. The antagonist force can be viewed as Lengel in “A & P” or the drug in “Sonny’s Blues” that sonny takes leading him to failure and even prison. The short story “A & P” shows how lengel has his own conflicts with Sam. To demonstrate, “”That’s all right,” Lengel said. “But this isn’t the beach.” His repeating this struck me as funny, as if it hadjust occurred to him, and he had been thinking all these years the A & P was a great big dune and he was the head lifeguard.” Eventually lengel’s actions will propel Sam’s anger or frustration.

1960’s Civil Rights movement

In the mid nineteenth century, people were becoming more opened minded to equality and of course women's suffrage. Meaning, before this act people were very conservative and this connects to why leangle has is not as open to new ideas or dress codes. The fact that the three young girls are in bathing suits really frustrates converting him to an antagonists force.

On the other hand, “Sonny’s blues” has an addiction conflict, “You smoking already? He lit the cigarette and nodded, watching me through the smoke.” This develops a strong grip to the ideology of an addiction or abuse of a substance which in literary terms is an antagonist force pushing down the characters life, beliefs, etc.

Drug reputation by Dick DeMarsico

In the 1960’s, Harlem had a great deal with drug abusers that ended as addicts or leading to death. this ties down to the life in Harlem in the nineteenth century. In fact, if Sonny might have lived in another place it could’ve changed the story completely. The drug becomes the antagonist force throughout sonny’s life.


To conclude, in both stories the protagonists are shifted into a point when the two different stories have the same aspects within epiphanies, motivational drifts, and the antagonist force that constructs a blockade within the protagonist’s internal and external. Leading us a dark but sure path of similarities, thus it becomes knowledgeable that the two different stories have some same literary elements nailed within.