Donald Greer
Dr. Beverly Fischer
English 1302
12 November 2010
John Updike?s ?A & P?
The A & P grocery store in John Updike?s ?A & P? offers the reader a realistic setting for the story. Updike allows one to view the store through the protagonist Sammy?s narration. Throughout the story Sammy is obsessed with three young girls in bathing suits. This is not unusual for a young man. What is unusual is that Sammy allows this obsession to end his longtime employment. Sammy?s employment with the grocery store is conventional. The reader can sense Sammy?s dissatisfaction with his position. This is apparent when Sammy states, ?I bet you could set off dynamite in an A & P and the people would by and large keep reaching, and checking oatmeal off their lists? (Updike 20). Stodgy and conventional the store is symbolic of Sammy?s current life. A life that is so predictable, that Sammy seeks a reason to make a change in his status. The three bathing suit cuties allow Sammy a reason to make the change.
Change can provide adventure. In Updike?s ?A & P? the reader can experience the evolution of Sammy throughout the story. His disdain for the everyday shoppers is clearly evident. He delivers a denunciation of the cash-register-watchers. He provides a cruel description of these people. ?A witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows?, states Sammy (Updike 18). Age is nasty in Sammy?s world. This is observed in other parts of the story. ?All that was left for us to see was Old McMahon patting his mouth and looking after them sizing up their joints? (Updike 21) states Sammy. ?Lengel's pretty dreary? (Updike 21), Sammy describes his boss. Throughout the story Sammy continues to make fun of the adults. The constant critical analysis of the adults in the story appears to be his way to distance himself from the moralistic or conventional attitudes of the people in the A & P store. The store is in a town located north of Boston. Its physical location, in the middle of town across from two banks and the Congregational Church, lend an air of respectability. A respectability challenged by three bathing suit clad young ladies. Sammy pictures himself as the defender of the young girls. It is as if he is a knight in shining armor protecting damsels in distress. Their distress is evident when they are confronted by the store manager. ?Queenie?s blush is no sunburn now? (Updike 22), Sammy states. Lengel the manager snidely states, ?We want you decently dressed when you come in here? (Updike 22). The manager?s attitude is one of strict compliance. The A & P is not the kind of store one wears a bathing suit in. Moralistic, uptight, and conventional describes Mr. Lengel. The manager and employees of the A & P demand that protocol be observed within the boundaries of the store. The store is definitely a symbol of respectable and conventional behavior. A symbol that Sammy is desperately trying to remain detached from. This is clearly evident in his rebellion. He wants to make a statement of his support for the girl?s appearance in the store. This is done when he quits his job. (Updike 22).
Quitting his job is Sammy?s defiance of the conventional. This is noted by Toni Saldivar in his own critical analysis of Updike?s short story ?A & P?. ?Worse is his manager?s puritanical rebuke for the beach attire? (Saldivar 215). Sammy is really disturbed by Lengel?s treating the girls in such a demeaning manner. His rebellion can be classified as heroic. He stands up to his manager and states ?you didn?t have to embarrass them? (Updike 23). This is further collaborated by Saldivar in his critical essay. ?In practical terms Sammy?s actions have gained him nothing and cost him everything, but his narrative affirms his gesture as a liberating form of dissent? (Saldivar 216). Quitting was Sammy?s liberation from a conventional life. He is now free to seek more challenging opportunities. Adventure is a possibility. Standing up for the girls provides a new turn in the road for Sammy. He can view himself as a heroic defender of young women. He is a person who is liberated from the confinement of the establishment. The decision may make life harder for Sammy. He acknowledges this when he states, ?my stomach kind