Coming of Age in “A & P” and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”


Adolescence is the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood, occurring between 13 and 19 years of age. However, the psychological and physical changes occurring during adolescence usually begin much earlier, in the pre-teenage years, between 9 and 12. Adolescence is both a time of discovery and disorientation. At that age, people are faced with problems of self-identification and understanding of themselves and the world around them. Hence, the transition from childhood to adulthood is a topic of many works of art in film and literature. “A & P” by John Updike and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates are coming-of-age stories where the main characters face situations where the external circumstances challenge their childhood. The essay analyses how authors perceive young people and their lives and hardships and compare the two protagonists in these stories.

Overview of the Adolescence Stage of Development

Many adolescents have an egotistical perception of life, an attitude that typically subsides with age. They are often self-focused and believe everybody else—from friends to a distant crush—is focusing on them too. Teens may struggle with feelings of being judged and insecurities. They give less significance to family relationships and more to romantic interests, peer groups, and appearances perceived as progressively more important in adolescence. The transition and the changes that occur may naturally result in concerns about changing relationships with others, physical development, and one’s place in the world. This is the case for Connie – a fifteen-year-old girl who is the main protagonist in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”.

Analysis of Connie in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”

The story can be divided into two parts; where the first one presents Connie, her family, and everyday summer activities. She lives a life of a typical teenager who conflicts with her mother, loves to spend time with friends and hang out at the mall, occasionally flirts with the boys that she meets there, and listens to the music on the radio. She is not much concerned about her future, as she just wants to be not like her sister Ellie or her mother. However, one day, a man introduces himself as Arnold Friend, who stalks her in the parking lot of the mall and promises that one day he is going to get her. The second part describes the event that happened a few days later, when Connie’s parents are away on the barbeque, and she is home alone in a car park near her house. It was Arnold Friend, who she had seen earlier. He wants her to come out of the house and go for a ride with him. Although she refuses, there is nobody to protect her, and she cannot call the police as Arnold threatens to come inside. Eventually, Connie has no other choice than to go into his car as the story ends with it.

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” describes an innocent girl who already shows interest in boys. This can be seen in how she spends her time at the mall, going to the movies, and expressing her interest in communication. Her initiation was forced by Arnold Friend, who stalked her and insisted on going into her car. Such initiation is disturbing, as Connie encountered a stranger who enforced her will, knowing that a young girl is helpless and could not resist or fight back. Joyce Carol Oates raises the topics of security and sexual initiation and women’s position in society in her story, as Connie was perceived as an object of desire by Arnold Friend and his friend in the passenger seat (Cougill 12). This reveals how cruel the world can be to young girls and how vulnerable they are in their adolescence.

Analysis of Sammy in “A & P”

On the contrary, the A & P story is about a boy Sammy who is 19 years old and works as a cashier in a shop and represents the broad population of late male adolescents who struggle with finding their place in the world. The story describes the event when three girls walked into a shop in their bathing suits and started to distract the staff and customers subtly. They did not do anything directly, but their looks and chaotic movement stirred the shop. This created an internal dilemma in Sammy as he was an employee of the shop but a teenager too, so it was easier for him to identify with them as he found their actions as a protest and was attracted to them.

Therefore, after the shop’s managers ask the girls to get out of the shop, Sammy decides to support them, quit his job, and leave the shop. But as he finishes talking to the manager and goes outside, he could not find the girls. That particular moment when he looks back in the shop’s window and sees the manager’s grey face and tense posture, the moment of initiation happens, and he realizes how many hardships life will bring.

Updike sees youth as people who seek joy and fun and reject everything dull, boring, and depressing. This can be seen in the girls’ behavior and in Sammy’s dissatisfaction with his manager and coworkers who were not happy at their place, and he did not want to become like them. Hence, teenagers engage in acts of rebellion against the mundane things offered to them by the world (Aguiar 59). At least it was Sammy’s interpretation of what the barefoot girls in bathing suits did in the shop.

Comparison of the Characters

When comparing characters from “A & P” and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”, readers can spot both differences in similarities between the main characters. There are differences in the characters’ age, gender, and maturity rate as Connie is a 15 years old girl and Sammy is a 19 years old boy who has a job. Hence, they face different problems during their initiation. Connie does not have much agency, and it is enforced on her by a stranger’s interest. On the other hand, Sammy is in a situation where he makes his own decisions and then contemplates the consequences. However, the characters are similar in their desire to enjoy life and reject the norms imposed by society, such as family chores or sharing the manager’s opinion.


In conclusion, both short stories contain much information for analysis despite describing only a few events. They reveal how society treats young people and how they react to that. In addition, the authors managed to portray realistic characters, which many readers could relate to, which is common for the coming of age literature. Despite having differences between the characters and their situations, the conflict between childish expectations and adulthood can be seen in both Connie and Sammy.

Works Cited

Aguiar, Christian. “Living class in John Updike’s “A&P”.” The Explicator vol. 78 no. 2, 2020, 58-61.

Cougill, Jo Nell. Vice and Virtue: Joyce Carol Oates’s Collection, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Stories of Young America as a Morality Manual for Adolescents. Diss. Southeast Missouri State University, 2019.

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AssignZen. "Coming of Age in “A & P” and "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been"." May 13, 2023.


AssignZen. 2023. "Coming of Age in “A & P” and "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been"." May 13, 2023.


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