Thanks for the responses to my recent post about the Updike story. I think Meanssomething is right that the story succeeds inasmuch as it does a good job developing through the narrator's voice. I still don't love the story, but I get it a bit more.
For me, there's a big class conflict in the story. But I'm not sure I'm totally getting it. So, let me say this much that seems pretty certain.
One of the big places where class difference comes in is in the description of the narrator's imagined or real experience with adults drinking. His own parents, he says, offer guests lemonade or, "if it's a real racy affair Schlitz in tall glasses with 'They'll Do It Every Time' cartoons stencilled on." In contrast, he imagines the women's family party with "Her father and the other men . . . standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them." It's like he's seen movies with high class parties, so he knows what the drinks look like, but doesn't know what the drinks are.
The narrator talks about the people who frequent the store, and it sounds like there's a "locals vs summer people" thing happening; the locals, he notes, don't go to the beach. They're working people, and they wear working clothes and such, because if you're working on hard linoleum (or tile) all day, you need shoes to manage and clothes to fit your job needs. The young women who come in dressed in bathing suits and barefoot, seem to come from the beach. And unlike most of the summer people, they didn't put on clothes first, or even sandals.
Lengel, the store manager, responds to the narrator's complaint that he didn't have to embarrass the women (who have left) by saying that "It was they who were embarrassing us."
I think that's a really telling moment because he's affronted by them coming in, being summer people who don't have to work, who spend time on the beach, who don't need to wear shoes. And their not wearing shoes is a special offense because it's excessive and over the top. They may need to come into the store, but coming in barefoot is like rubbing the locals' noses in the class difference, in their own privilege.
The narrator, thinking himself a sort of hero, doesn't realize that the issue is class difference, and not just Lengel being a jerk and himself being some sort of stand up for the right thing rebel.
Now here's my question. We're told that the women buy "Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream." Are Herring Snacks a code? Specifically, is this a code for Jewishness in the text? That is, I'm wondering if there's also a ethnic/religious difference being hinted at as well as a class difference? And would that make Lengel's feeling of offense stronger? Or is the herring snack more code for some pretensions (or not) to Britishness?
I've seen this story taught several times, and it was always in a way that sort of laughed at and admired the narrator at the same time, and didn't ever explore the social class stuff. So now I wonder?