Three short stories, John Updike's "A&P", Frank O'Connor's "First Confession", and Ernest J. Gaines' "The Sky Is Gray," all deal with the coming of age of their young male protagonists. To one degree or another, the stories' protagonists experience an initiation of sorts into the harsher realities of life. This study will discuss the similarities and differences of the coming of age experiences of the three protagonists.
Sammy, the teenager in Updike's story, quits his job as a grocery store clerk as a sign of support for three girls who are insulted and demeaned by his boss, and as a result he recognizes "how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter" (Updike 67). James, the boy in Gaines' story, accompanies his mother to the dentist, experiences a number of harsh realities about life, particularly about the prejudice and hardships faced by blacks in the South of the 1940s, and learns from his mother that "You not a bum. . . . You a man" (Gaines 386). Jackie, the boy in O'Connor's story, goes to his first confession and learns that the nightmare awaiting him according to his tormenting sister is more like a sweet, comic dream. We get the feeling from O'Connor's story that Jackie's sweet and playful nature indicate his being in some sort of state of grace, as his sister appears to recognize: "'Lord God,' she wailed bitterly, 'some people have all the luck! 'Tis no advantage to anybody trying to be good. I might just as well be a sinner like you'" (O'Connor 525).
The boys in Updike's and Gaines' stories go through darker initiations than does the boy in O'Connor's story. Both Sammy and James' experiences leave them changed in ambiguous ways, while it seems that Jackie's lesson is more simple and positive. Sammy is the only one of the three who makes a decision and takes an action which will change his life, while James and Jackie, younger than Sammy, are passive victims of circumstance.
Sammy's initiation stands in co...