Rite of Passage: Journeys by Young Men
And character comes from boyhood.
Thus every boy is a challenge to his elders. Herbert Hoover
Obtaining rite of passage can take place anywhere from childhood upward into the twenties or even thirties, but is most commonly under-taken in the late teen years. In the short stories A&P by John Updike, and Barn Burning by William Faulkner, the elements of inflexible social systems, adult rules and authority illustrates how a couple of young men make their mark on society by going against the grain in order to earn their rite of passage.
Updike s story takes place in a grocery store located in the center of a very conservative New England community. Much like the small town, the A&P grocery store observes inflexible social systems such as proper shopping etiquette and appropriate dress code. The normal customers, houseslaves and sheep as referred to by Sammy, balk at the audacity of the young girls total disregard for proper dress code and normal traffic flow of the aisles. Sammy, on the other hand, is enamored by the young girls and sees nothing wrong with their clothes, even though he understands their choice of clothing is not appropriate according to store policy. Furthermore, Sammy is amused and entertained by the girls antics of bouncing around the store like pinballs.
Ultimately, Sammy s liberal viewpoint on the situation leads to his decision to defend both his and the girls beliefs by symbolically discarding his mandatory attire of vest and bow tie.
Sammy realizes that he feels so strongly about the situation that he sacrifices his job in order to prove his point and support his beliefs. In doing so he questions adult rules and authority by standing up to Lengal and stating, I quit, and You didn t have to embarrass them. Lengal, as an older upstanding citizen and figure of authority, lectures Sammy on his mistake after he retorts, It was they who were embarrassing us. Lengal then finds it prudent to involve other authority figures in Sammy s life by stating, Sammy, you don t want to do this to your Mom and Dad with an additional kicker of You ll feel this for the rest of your life. Sammy knows that both statements from Lengal are true; however he feels it necessary to carry out what he has started. At this point Sammy simply turns away from Lengal and saunters outside.
Faulkner s story takes place in early 20th century deep south. The Snopes are forced to move constantly due to Abner s refusal to cooperate with society. In effect, Abner has isolated his family and enforces their obedient following by enacting strict discipline and expects them to carry out his every wish and demand. At the first sign of incompliance Abner is quick to lend a stiff hand of correction to the faulting family member. Unfortunately, the only family member that falls into this category is the ten year old Sarty.
Sarty desperately wants to please his father; however he finds himself in a quandary between doing what he believes is morally correct and his perceived obligation to be loyal to his father. In the trial against his father for the burned barn, Sarty is faced with choosing loyalty to his father or telling the truth as he believes. Sarty s thoughts during the trial are reflected our enemy he thought in that despair; ourn! Mine and hisn both! He s my father! [sic] Abner has obviously prepared his son before the trial. Sarty is struggling to convince himself that his father s side is right. However, at this point, he decides to side with his father even though he sees the wrong in doing so. He aims for me to lie .[a]nd I will have to do hit. [sic] Sarty can t go against his father and face the apparent wrath that will follow. After the trial and half way through another move, Abner has a talk with his son and states You were fixing to tell them. You would have told him. Your getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain t going to have any blood to stick to you.
As the story progresses, Abner is about to embark on yet another barn-burning incident. He is preparing to leave his house and orders his wife to hold onto Sarty. Abner is fearful that Sarty will follow him and alert the owners. Sarty, desperate to stop his father, conveys his feelings Ain t you going to even send a nigger? He cried. At least you sent a nigger before! Abner contemplates tying him up but settles for his wife holding on to him. Eventually, Sarty breaks free from his mothers grasp and rushes to alert the new victims. Sarty has finally decided to stand up for what he believes to be right and just. After he notifies DeSpain he bolts from the house and continues running away from the scene. He hears a shot followed by two more; he stops running long enough to cry Pap! Pap! He resumes running, unwittingly, and decides to run as far away as he can while he sobs Father! Father!
In both stories the young men realize the exact point where they have finally made a conscience decision to abide by their own beliefs and morals, thus obtaining their individual spot in society for better or worse. With Sammy leaving the A&P and looking back in, he sees Lengal in his old spot checking through the sheep. His stomach falls as he imagines how hard the world will be to him hereafter. Likewise, Sarty finally tires from running and sits to reflect on what had just taken place and realizes the magnitude of his actions and knows he can never return. Sarty thinks about the hard life in the future ahead but can t help feeling relieved for breaking the chains of bondage that were emplaced on him by his father.
The delicate dance from childhood to manhood is undertaken and seen in all cultures and walks of life. Some transitions are of greater magnitude than others. But, all transformations stem from a conscience decision to make a stand on what is believed to be important and right. In both examples the young men have rebelled against the inflexible social systems that surrounded them thereby earning their rite of passage into manhood.
The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within. Mahatma Gandhi