The conflict of the individual vs. society is a timeless conflict that plagues each and every one of us. It is an integral part of our genetic make-up so that despite everything we as individuals need to be part of society as our need for interdependence is so great. And that is the reason why the conflict of individual and society persists with no panacea for it, and will continue to be a war waged with either one triumphing over the other as the situation warrants.
Freud's psychoanalytic theory might have stirred up a controversy, but it was able to aptly indicate the everyday conflict that man faces being part of the society. His theory with id as the primal instincts that humans follow, the ego as the regulator and the superego as the philanthropist has enabled us to pinpoint the probable causes of this ubiquitous conflict of individual vs. society. (Elliott)
Moreover there are also the needs of people, as defined by Abraham Maslow who indicates that and moves up from trying to satisfy his or her physiological needs to status and social needs which define the conflict that the works discussed in this paper are talking about. (Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs motivational model)
The conflict is never ending, and unlike other conflicts there are no opposing parties. A society is comprised of individuals, who cannot but live socially. So there is an inherent bond and that is the reason for this unending conflict. Art and literature are forms of expression that are timeless and go beyond the confines of an era to describe to people at all points in time of how a particular society functioned and of the nuances within which people lived their lives in a civilization. Sculptures, paintings and various forms of arts and crafts are what are left of ancient civilizations and yet these peripherals are what enable us to understand how those people lived and help us understand our roots.
In a similar the vein, the A&P story, the story of the Glass Menagerie, and the movie Forrest Gump depict this eternal conflict of an individual vs. society. In each form of expression lies the notion of self-interest vs. collective, societal gain.
The story of A&P is a differently written narrative that describes what is going on inside the head of a young man when he sees a bunch of girls dressed differently sauntering in the store where he works. The story depicts how three girls, wearing swimsuits and no footwear enter into his store and the impact that this manner of dress has on other customers. Although the young man doesn't know them, he races to their rescue putting his livelihood in jeopardy and quits his job because the store supervisor embarrasses the girls for being indecently dressed.
As far as the story of the Glass Menagerie is concerned, while it is very different in its plot, setting and character portrayals as well as the narrative, the work also has underlying nuances of the conflict of an individual vs. society, which in this story is the conflict of Tom's selfish interests and that of his mother and sister, who were already abandoned by the father earlier on.
As far as the story of the Forrest Gump goes, the movie also depicts the conflict of individual desires as against the betterment of the society. In the case of Gump, the movie depicts how a man was able to influence so many people and events in his life and how one single man can progress and entire society. Although, the story of the movie is fictional, it goes to illustrate the power of one, and how a person can influence other people to be able to unknowingly create a change in the world.
Analysis of A&P
As far as the story of A&P is concerned, this story depicts the conflict of an individual vs. society through its theme of self-expression. The plot revolves around the reflections of Sammy, who has been mesmerized by some girls. The symbolism in this story is that of attire and the imagery that has been depicted through the narration is confined to a store set up where Sammy follows the progress of these girls through the store with his eyes.
According to a review by Gilbert Porter, (Porter) the reviewer claims that by standing up against the supervisor, the cashier Sammy committed himself to individual freedom which is not appreciated by the worldly conformist values, and that instead of being encouraged such actions are punished by the world.
The story has been written in the first person narrative and the reflections and some of the dialogues that have been uttered by the males in this story seem to be leering in nature, where in the presence of attractive females, these young boys, gullible and high on testosterone seem to be entranced. However, when the supervisor of the store publicly berates the girls on their dress code, the youthful flare of temper shines through in Sammy and he quits his job with no particular thought in mind but the fact that he did not want to see these girls embarrassed. Although, he did somehow know at the back of his mind that the girls did not know of his quitting, he was hoping against hope, when he left the store that the girls would be there and that they would somehow think of him as a hero who had tried to salvage their reputation among the throng of shoppers in the store.
The store is a public setting that forms part of the routine of all the members of the community and is a perfect setting in which to exemplify this conflict between the individual and the society. Through his actions, Sammy acted upon impulse, a primal instinct that attracted him to the girls and in the process made him oblivious to reason. That was the reason why quit, thinking that his action might in some way be visible to the girls who would notice him. Given also that Sammy is quoted to be a nineteen-year-old boy, which is the time where attraction to the opposite sex is at its prime, and it was this subconscious drive that made him react in this way.
The story also goes on to reveal that once the boy was outside the store he realized how his focus on himself had made him jobless despite the fact that he and his family needed this job to survive.
Analysis of Glass Menagerie
As far as the story of the Glass Menagerie is concerned, this tale depicts the tale of Tom, and is a recollection of his memories where he is an actor as well as the narrator. By the sheer setting of the play, one can see and feel the conflict raging within Tom between his selfish interests of establishing himself and his societal responsibilities of taking care of his mother and his sister.
The imagery of the play and the lighter cadences indicate that Tom might have had affinity for his sister that went beyond the society's confined roles of brother and sister and in that he may have opted to drive himself away from the situation. This plot is a dichotomy in the sense that on one hand Tom wants to be part of a better society and wants to retain his position as Laura's brother so he leaves them. On the other hand, ignoring this undercurrent of incest in the play, it can also be considered that he let his personal aims prevail over his responsibility to take care of his mother and sister.
According to James Topham, this work of William Tennessee deals with the world as we would like to see it and the world as it is. This is what the difference between Tom's narrative and his actions depicts and makes for the play being a prime illustration of individual vs. society conflict. (Topham)
No matter what the perspective, the play depicts this theme and intones how the protagonist was plagued even when he was so far removed from his family with this conflict of individual desires vs. community needs.
One scene that of particular significance here is that when Tom tries to match makes Laura and his friend Jim. While dancing with Laura, Jim breaks Laura's glass Unicorn so that the Unicorn's horn is broken. Laura realizes how the unique magical creature is now just an ordinary horse. This scene goes to depict how, when an individual's self-image collides with reality, the person feels that he is not really unique at all. He is in fact a part of the masses, of the crowds of people who co-exist, each one thinking they are special, when they really aren't. They are just the same, each with their own internal conflicts.
Analysis of Forrest Gump
The story of Forrest Gump is that of a man who travels the world. Forrest is a simpleton who narrates his…