Male Chauvinism in Updike and Hemingway Essay

This essay has a total of 1553 words and 7 pages.

Male Chauvinism in Updike and Hemingway

John Updike and Ernest Hemingway struggle to portray women in a positive light; because of
this, Updike’s and Hemingway’s readers come away from their stories with the
effect that the lead male characters are chauvinistic, which can be defined as
“prejudiced devotion to any attitude or cause” (“Chauvinism” 228).

In John Updike’s “A & P”, three girls shop in the local A & P and are
described head to toe by the nineteen year old cashier, Sammy:

“The one that caught my eye first was the one in the plaid green two-piece. She was
a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents
of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs of her
legs . . . there was this one, with one of those chubby berry-faces, the lips all bunched
together under her nose . . . and a tall one, with black hair that hadn’t quite
frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was
too long . . . and then the third one, that wasn’t quite so tall. She was the queen
. . . She didn’t look around, not this queen, she just walked straight on slowly, on
these long white prima-donna legs . . . She had on a kind of dirty pink – beige
maybe, I don’t know – bathing suit with a little nubble all over it and, what
got me, the straps were down . . . all around the top of the cloth there was this shining
rim . . . She had sort of oaky hair that the sun and salt had bleached, done up in a bun
that was unravelling, and a kind of prim face . . . The longer her neck was, the more of
her there was” (147, 148) .

Through Updike’s descriptions of the girls, you can see how critical he is of women.
They are merely “wives, sex objects, and purely domestic creatures”
(Kakutani, par. 1). While not trying to make his portrayals of women purposefully sexist
or patronizing, Updike still presents this view to the reader (Updike 7). He typically
gives “magazine cliches about the woes of being a housewife” and “noisy
diatribes about piggish ways of men”, rather than giving the reader “an
understanding of their conflicts as women” (Kakutani, par. 9).

It is because of these views that characters such as Sammy and the other cashier,
twenty-two year old Stokesie, are viewed as male chauvinists. As soon as the girls walked
into the store, Sammy immediately lost all concentration. “I stood there with my
hand on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not” (147). He
continues after that to analyze the girls’ every move and feature, saying that the
“bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones” was
“more than pretty,” and that ‘Queenie’ “turned so slow it
made my stomach rub the inside of my apron” (148). Sammy and Stokesie then have
conversation while watching the girls walk.

“‘Oh, Daddy,’ Stokesie said beside me. ‘I feel so faint.’
‘Darling,’ I said. ‘Hold me tight’” (149).
Even the man behind the meat counter, McMahon, began to watch and react to the girls by
“patting his mouth and looking after them sizing up their joints” (149).
Sammy continues with his chauvinistic ways when “she lifts a folded dollar bill out
of the hollow at the center of her nubbled pink top. The jar went heavy in my hand. I
thought that was so cute” (150), and when he uncreases “the bill, tenderly as
you may imagine, it just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I
had ever known were there” (151).

Through Updike’s descriptions and dialogue, he has made the male characters in
“A & P” come across as the stereotypical male pig. After Lengel, the manager,
informs the girls that “this isn’t the beach” (150), Sammy immediately
blurts out, “I quit.” “The girls, and who’d blame them, are in a
hurry to get out, so I say ‘I quit,’ to Lengel quick enough for them to hear,
hoping they’ll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero” (151). Sammy
believes that because he is male, and the girls are the typical female who will be
flattered be him saving them, that this would be the wise thing to do in the situation.
Despite his thinking, however, his actions simply come across to the reader as something
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