John Updike's A&P Essay
Author John Updike
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.
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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.
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.
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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