Popular Girls

This study guide will help you analyze the short story “Popular Girls” by Karen Shepard (2001). We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on the summary, structure, characters, setting, narrator and point of view, language, theme and message, and help you put the text in perspective.

Karen Shepard is a Chinese-American author of novels and short stories. Most of her short fiction has been published in American literary magazines. She is also a college professor and is married to another novelist, Jim Shepard.

Excerpt from the study guide:

Many elements in the text have a symbolic function and are character-building.

The numerous references to clothes and fashion brands are symbolic of the material culture of the upper class and their snobbism and shallowness. They illustrate how the girls have been raised to appreciate and find comfort only in material things. These branded items are a symbol of their higher status.

The backpacks that the girls carry are both a symbol of status (they are from a fashionable Swedish brand) but also of a defensive action, as the girls use them as a protective wall against them and the others.

The limo in which the girls are picked up by the unknown men is a symbol of passage from innocence to experience: from a state of childhood into a state of adulthood but in a very sordid way. The limo takes them to the club where they do drugs and to the guys’ apartment where they will probably engage in a sexual orgy. 

The windows at the club, through which the girls see other women posing, are symbolic of confinement and self-reflection. Just like the women are confined in the windowed rooms and sexually objectified, so is the life of the girls. Their lives are like a luxury glass box, in which their choices seem limited and lead to a sordid situation they feel they can’t escape.

At the end, when the girls imagine being home in their beds, this image is symbolic of the girls’ feeling of still being children and of their fear of losing their innocence, as they are about to lose their virginity in a sex orgy with three strangers.

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Popular Girls

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