Books and Movies Reviews

The Wisdom of Experience: Irony and Symbolism in Shepherd, Updike, and Anderson

If only I knew then, what I know now.This theme runs through Jean Shepherd's essay "The Endless Streetcar Ride into the Night, and the Tinfoil Noose," John Updike's short story "A&P," and Sherwood Anderson's "I’m A Fool.;All of these works of prose use irony and symbolism to underline similar themes, namely the tension between the narrator;s ignorance during of a youthful past versus the sad wisdom of someone who is older and wiser. But while Shepherd uses ironic language in his essay, he expresses sentiments that are likely to be his own, while Updike and Anderson create youngfirst-person character narrations who express sentiments that are likely to be very different from those of the actual, older writer.
;Mewling, puking babes.That’s the way we all start," reflects Shepherd at the beginning of his essay. (Shepherd, 1966)In short, all of us begin the same way, as blank slates or infants. There is an ironic tension between this vulnerable state and the "Prime Ministers, the Presidents, Cabinet members, Stars, dynamic molders of the Universe," that some of these babes become.Of course, not all babes become President. Many become the faceless audience these stars impress and are doomed to worry for the rest of their lives about what went wrong. "It seems like one minute we’re all playing around back of the garage, kicking tin cans and yelling at girls, and the next instant you find yourself doomed to exist as an office boy in the Mail Room of Life, while another ex-mewling, puking babe…says ;No comment; to the Press, and lives a real genuine Life on the screen of the world.; (Shepherd, 1966) The symbolic contrast between the career of the office boy and the politician;s;no comment,; when before, both of them engaged in the same joyous pastimes of youth, underlines Shepherd;s hard-won wisdom that life;s …


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