You’re Not 16 Until I Say So

The movie Sixteen Candles (1984) by John Hughes epitomizes the lives of white, middle to upper-class, American teenagers in the 1980’s. Hughes also creates multiple perspectives from the typical stereotypes of teens in high school. The movie starts with the main character Samantha (Sam), an awkward, average teen girl waking up on her 16th birthday only to resent her family members who forgot about her birthday as a result of the chaos surrounding her older sister’s (Ginny) wedding. As a teen experiencing typical teenage-angst, she storms out of her house to school only to confide about her experience to her closest friend who seems to be the only person who cares. In class, Sam sends a “sex-quiz” to her friend which was intercepted by her crush, senior Jake Ryan. Sam wrote in the note about her secret desire to lose her virginity to Jake who is depicted as rich, attractive, nice and athletic. He plays the idealistic high school “Mr. Popular” role. Little does Sam know that Jake secretly admires her too, but is too insecure to say so. The movie continues to Sam returning home after school to find that her overzealous grandparents are staying in her house with special guest Chinese exchange student, Long Duc Dong. Dong plays the minority role depicted in an extremely satirical manner to the point of racism. Sam’s grandparents urge her to take Dong to the school dance, and not long after their arrival, he finds a jock girlfriend who is much more “masculine”  and bigger in size than he is. She is the typical depiction of athletic females in the 80’s. The subplot introduces “the geek” stereotype, which follows the character Ted who is trying to impose his infatuation on Sam because of a bet with his friends. Sam and Ted end up talking in the school’s auto-shop during the dance where Sam confesses her feelings for Jake. Ted then informs Sam about Jake’s mutual feelings of attraction which is the


The poster that advertises John Hughes’s Sixteen Candles (1984).

turning point of the movie that sets Sam on a hopeful pursuance of coupling with Jake that may lead to losing her virginity and becoming a woman. Ted admits the bet he made with his friends to Sam, and due to the elevated emotions, Sam gives her panties to him so that he can prove his “triumph” and his masculinity. There is a post-dance party at Jake’s house where Ted and his friends crash. At the end of the night, Jake finds Ted trapped underneath the living room coffee table, which opens the discussion of Sam’s secret love for Jake. Ted exchanges Sam’s panties for Jake’s offer to drive his inebriated stuck-up, prom-queen girlfriend (Carolyn) home in his father’s Rolls Royce. The next morning is the wedding day and Sam is awoken by obnoxious relatives frantically running around the house trying to get ready. After a small quarrel, her family makes up and apologizes for forgetting her birthday then head off to the church where Ginny took one too many muscle relaxers and causes a scene. At this time, Jake goes looking for Sam and finds Ted and Carolyn asleep in his father’s car in a nearby parking-lot and then breaks up with Carolyn who doesn’t mind because she’s now fallen for Ted. Jake finds Sam after the wedding where they meet face-to-face for the first time and invites her to his house instead of attending the reception. Sam’s birthday and coming-of-age is finally validated in the the last scene of the movie where Sam and Jake are seen kissing over a birthday cake with 16 candles.

Thesis: In Sixteen Candles, John Hughes depicts the life of an average, white teenager in the 1980’s with references to high school group stereotypes, coming of age symbols and gender roles, as well as teenagers’ perceived issues and interests to symbolize the dramatic, idealistic, naive nature of teens.

Topic Sentence 1: Hughes epitomizes stereotypical cliques and gender roles formed in a 1980’s high school setting with individual characters who reflect the basic characteristics of these generalizations.

  • Mention the specific characters and where they tie into the stereotypes
  • Talk about the prejudice and privilege of white teens
  • The roles of parents and family in teen life

Topic Sentence 2: The movie is centralized around Sam’s coming-of-age 16th birthday that leads her on a quest to lose her virginity which is the point in a girl’s life where she becomes a woman and a boy becomes a man (in western culture).

  • What is considered coming-of-age
  • Gender roles
  • Sex and society

Topic Sentence 3: The issues and interests of teenagers in Sixteen Candles reflect the nature and motives of teenage behavior in the 1980’s.

  • Teen attributes
  • Emotions and developing
  • The struggle to discover one’s sense of self
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