A Paper on Sacrifice in John Updikes An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and A & P

Often times in literature for the protagonist to make progress a sacrifice has to be made. This sacrifice can spark progress in the movement of the story or growth in the character themselves. The true development in the story comes not in the sacrifice itself, but in the motives behind the characters actions. In both “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “A&P” the protagonist sacrifices something that has a profound impact on his life, but the results of their actions are vastly different.

John Updike develops Sammy, from his short story “A&P”, in such a way that the reader senses that his frustration will eventually consume his reason, and that all he is missing is the spark to set off his anger. The only thing we know for sure about Sammy’s beliefs is that he hates the atmosphere of the A&P and as a result despises his job. The rest of his beliefs, as they pertain to the story, are left to deduction.

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It is ironic that Sammy, who describes the customers in the store as being sheep, ultimately makes a sacrifice to defend the esteem of several young girls shopping in the market. Upon seeing the chastising of the attractive girls by the manager Sammy immediately protests, but is not engaged by the manager and so he quits his post. In case Sammy hadn’t realized it, the manager, who is a friend of the family, informs him that life will be hard for him if he quits.

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It is here that we learn that Sammy is a man of principle and he follows through with his action regardless of its consequences. Lengel, though, was right; because Sammy believes so strongly in his principles his life will be difficult. After making his first significant sacrifice the world will never again look the same to Sammy. Perhaps it is more important to realize that Sammy will never again look at himself the same way, now he has proven that he can cease the moment. The beliefs and frustrations in his mind became more than thoughts, instead they were finally translated into actions.

Farmer Peyton Farquhar from Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” similarly makes a sacrifice, but his beliefs and intended outcome are clear. Peyton is from a high social pedigree having come from a well-to-do southern family. Being that he was a slave owner, he naturally was a politician devoted to the Southern cause. For reasons unknown to the reader, he cannot enlist as a solder in the war. Yet, he desperately wants to fight for the Confederate secession. Bierce describes him as longing for the larger life of the soldier”. It is important for the reader to understand that Peyton desperately wants to fight for the Confederacy because the glory of the South is his sole motivation to take the action he does. Ultimately Peyton is caught trying to burn down a bridge the Union is using to advance into the south and is sentenced to be die by hanging. Just as the plank of wood that separates him from life and death is pulled out from beneath him, he has a vision of his escape. Throughout his delusion of grandeur it is important to note that he never once considers the thought that he should not have taken the action that he did. This point alone demonstrates that Peyton is man of conviction. He knew exactly what he was doing before he did it, and so there was no plausible way he could ever regret what he did. It is indisputable that Peyton failed at his mission; after all he was caught and hanged from the very bridge he was attempting to destroy. This, however, was not a war story, but instead an account of one man’s sacrifice. As a result his martyrdom, Peyton Farquhar develops as a character more than he could have through any success.

The similarities between these two characters are obvious; both made a sacrifice to gain a victory on some level. A more detailed analysis of these two characters reveals much more, and we see that the similarities run much deeper. The sacrifice these two men make isn’t to gain something for them, but instead is made on the behalf of another party. For Sammy, it was to defend the esteem of the young bathing suit clad girls who were embarrassed by his superior. For Peyton he was defending not only his home, but the entire South, a tradition that his family had apparently been part of for generations. These selfless actions, especially Peyton who made the ultimate sacrifice in giving his life, define who these characters were. Their causes were of entirely different natures but both acted not for themselves but hopefully for the betterment of others.

Another key similarity between these two is what drove them to take the action they did. In both cases it was an intense emotion that drove them to act as they did, but the emotions each experienced are found at opposite ends of the spectrum. Sammy was driven by a hatred of not only his job, but the atmosphere he was forced to work in. The monotonous pace of the stores activity, coupled with the herds of sheep and house slaves put Sammy in a state of mind where he was constantly on the verge of breaking down. Peyton, on the other hand, was pushed into action by a deep love of the South. The language Bierce uses to describe Peyton’s anticipation of his role in the war signaled that the South was more than a home to the farmer, but instead a way of life worth dying for to defend. In both cases when they had a chance to reflect on what they had done, neither one showed any signs of regretting it. Instead there was a focus on what this meant to their future. For these characters there was no hindsight.

Perhaps the most important difference between the two is the results of their sacrifices. Peyton has the most obvious results to his actions; obviously he pays for his crime with his life. Sammy is not quite as simple to dissect. As soon as he is fired, Lengel takes his place at the cash register and begins filing the “sheep” through once again. Thus, the reader can infer that the A&P is not changed. Furthermore, outside he sees that the girls are already gone; never knowing the sacrifice he made for them. The change that he made was a personal one. Sammy recognizes that life is going to be hard on him from that day forward, not because he is nineteen and without a job, but because he is a man of principle in a society quickly forgetting about values.

It would seem only fitting that any person willing to give up something important to them should in turn gain something, but as we learn in the short stories “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bride” and “A & P” it is not always so simple. In both of these cases the characters would appear to have been failures as both of the institutions they stood up against remained unchanged. However, these stories went deeper than surface accomplishments. Sammy’s quitting became moment of epiphany for him where he finally realized what it was that mattered most to him. Peyton, unfortunately, made no headway as a “person”, but rather his decision gave the reader insight to who he was as a character. Had either of these characters opted not to forfeit something in their lives as they did, the authors would have been ineffective in conveying their motives and personalities.

1, Danielle Abribat, complied with Loyola College’s Honor Code.

Writing this paper was a little difficult for me because there are so many aspects to each story. Picking which ones to explore and finding two stories that fit together was quite a task. Some parts of the stories, also, I had a hard time understanding. However, I pulled through, came up with a topic that’s different and pretty small, detailed. Once I worked out all the quirks, I didn’t find it to be too hard. I know that I may lack some ‘quotational’ proof, but I think that my explanations of my thoughts are clear, make much sense, and add to the point that I am trying to make. Overall, as my last essay, I would just like to say that I really did enjoy this class. It reminded me very much of my sophomore English class, in which I learned the most about writing. You are a talented teacher and I look forward to attending your class each day. I can only hope that when I become a teacher that I can be as effective to my students as you have been to me.

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A Paper on Sacrifice in John Updikes An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and A & P. (2022, Feb 12). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/a-paper-on-sacrifice-in-john-updikes-an-occurrence-at-owl-creek-bridge-and-a-p-essay

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