John Updike's A&P Essay

Author John Updike

A&P Essay

John Updike, creates the impulsive character Sammy, a young boy working as a cashier in an A&P grocery store who leaves his boring job on a whim in his short story “A&P.” Sammy, an average boy in a small, New England town, rings up items in one of the seven register slots at the A&P. The stores patrons and employees infuriate Sammy as much as the sound, “Hello (Bing) there, you (gung) hap-py pee- pul (splat)” (Updike 20) of the registers. Sammy’s days checking groceries in the third checkout slot of the A&P change when an uncomfortable situation arises causing him to act on his displeasure.

The girl of Sammy’s dreams arrives, well maybe not the girl of his dreams, but a cute girl; a cute girl with two friends and all three of them wearing swimsuits in the A&P which is five miles from the beach. The three girls remind Sammy what he misses while cashiering at the store summer days. As the girls make their way to Sammy’s checkout slot, Lengel, the manager at the A&P, confronts the girls about their improper dress so far from the beach. Lengel makes it clear to the girls that uncovered shoulders are never proper at the A&P, even if you are only buying one item, and your Mom sent you to the store.


Sammy watches over the scene, feeling bad for the girls as Lengel exploits, the jaw droopingly beautiful “Queenie,” making an example of her for the recent swarm of shoppers in need of their daily gossip. Then Sammy becomes upset as Lengel turns the attention to Sammy involving him in the situation. As if being a dreary Sunday school teacher were not enough, Lengel insists on being a deceitful, dreary, Sunday school teacher by bringing him into the mix. Sammy enjoys the sight of the girls in the store; Sammy found watching the girls better than looking at the “women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs,” (Updike 10) and definitely better than ringing up groceries for the ‘cash register watching witches;’ women like that are almost unbearable. Lengel wants to know if the girls paid for their snack, yet, Sammy wants to know why Lengel has to embarrass the girls so callously.

The appearance of three girls in swimsuits arouses the interests of both nineteen year old Sammy and his co-worker, twenty-two year old Stoksie, however, Stoksie, “married, with two babies chalked up to his fuselage already,” (Updike 8) simply teases Sammy mildly as the girls walk through the store as if saying “Sammy and ‘Queenie’ sitting in the tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Stoksie dreams of receiving promotion to management while Sammy ogles ‘Queenie,’ his favorite of the three girls, and her two pleasant friends, “Plaid”, and “Big Tall Goony” (Updike 21) walking up the aisles through the store.

Finally, the girls walk out the door into the sunlight as Sammy quits his job. Customers begin to “knock against each other, like scared pigs in a chute” (Updike 27) and though Lengel implores Sammy not to disappoint his family and the girls are now gone; Sammy still quits. The girls leave and Sammy knows he will not be their “hero” and he still walks out alone. The married woman with her screaming kids can not interest him in hanging around the A&P; on this day these people are too much for nineteen year old Sammy to tolerate, though most days girls did not go to the A&P in their swim suits. The girls’ influence Sammy, Lengel, and Stoksie identically, however the effect of the store on Sammy differs from the effect it has on Stoksie or Lengel. Therefore Sammy reacts to the situation by quitting, whereas Stoksie teases and Lengel becomes irate.

john updike

Works Sited

Updike, John. “A&P.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed Kennedy, X.J. and Gioi, Dana. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005. 15-20.

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Comments 7 comments

loua profile image

loua 6 years ago from Elsewhere, visiting Earth ~ the segregated community planet

Hey,on the streets of HP, How goes it? You ever read, Couples ~ it was one of if not the first of the swinger novels...


pearlgearl profile image

pearlgearl 6 years ago Author

nope never read it Lou, this here piece on A&P is one of my old college essays. A forced read, but one of the more pleasurable ones.

Freesmith 5 years ago

"A&P" is a little "Araby" and a lot of "Holden Caulfield" and "Winesburg, Ohio" with its distaste for phonies and grotesques.

But the video captures the aspect of the short story that a lot of the critiques miss, which is the aspect of class differences. Those distinctions are put in stark relief by the arrival of the 3 carefree upper middle class girls who are looking for herring dip in a townie supermarket. None of them know where to find the little jar - their servants usually handle that chore - and they are oblivious to the customs which protect the more tentative stability of middle and lower middle class life.

Sammy's epiphany is unusually apt, although I wonder if Updike truly understood it. Yes, life is going to be harder for him from now on, if he continues to act on his impulses. The Sixties and Seventies were full of human devastation caused by young people who, without the support of money and position, aped the behavior of the careless smart set and indulged their whims, especially their sexual whims.

It is so facile and so arrogant to believe that people one generation removed from poverty establish customs of behavior merely to repress virility and youth. Yet that seems to be the lesson that most people assume from this story.

The grasshopper always is more entertaining than the ant in summertime; but winter does come.

burr 4 years ago

this was an awesome story to do a research paper on, very simple and short, yet much goes on

Open 21 months ago

My mantra for years has been, Rejection is part of the jnruoey. Dejection is a choice. I believe this to be true even though I fully realize how disappointing it is when a writer, or anyone, really, is rejected.There are times I think, Just shelve it and start on something else, but I start reading the story again and I realize there is something special there. It's not ready yet, but it will be if I just don't give up.I'm one of those people who can do about anything craftwise if I see directions and even better can see someone do it. Even so, nothing I have ever done is perfect the first time I do it. The first attempt is usually acceptable, but the beautiful pieces are after many attempts. So it is with writing.

Ayah 21 months ago

he's being really pahtitec and what you need to do (no matter how much you don't want to) is probably hint that you're going to break it off. if you have this conversation with him that things aren't really going well, nd he tells you he will make it up to you and be a better boyfriend then maybe you can give him one more chance. if he doesn't act that interested in you leaving then right away you should know that he's not worth another chance of course and you should just leave and let another girl deal with his immature crap and obsession with a damn video game for God's sake. i hope you do this because this will be effective and it's a test to see if he really cares.

Daniel 20 months ago

Very smart, Julie. I LOVE the mantra. It's true reeotcijn is part of the process, and those who can't take it won't persist to the point that they're not getting rejected any more. I really think that self-publishing is problematic on that count. If it's so easy to self-publish a first draft, a lot of the impetus for repeated revision is lost but that revision is what brings us great books. Also love your reference to craft. Crafts are learned through observation, instruction, and practice. The more you practice the better you get. It ain't rocket science.Good to see you here, and thanks for the shout-out on my workshops.

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