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The world of literature is the source of new ideas, thoughts and inspirations. The authors make us think over our life. Undoubtedly, everyone has the right to have their own opinion and the literature encourages us being open-minded and independent in our judgments. The novel A&P by John Updike is one of the works, which has a rather simple plot but involves the important message to the public.
The aim of this essay is to summarize the plot of A&P by John Updike and to discuss the main idea of the novel.
The Summary of the Plot
The plot of the novel unfolds at the grocery shop A&P, where a young man Sammy works. He is the main character and the narrator of the story, which happened to him in the work place. Sammy is only 19 years old and, in contrast to the most of population, he has rather rebellious views on the American consumerism.
At the same time, people, whom he observes every day at the shop, are, obviously, the bright examples of the consumer society influence. Besides, Lengel, a manager of the store, plays an important role in the plot of the novel. He is the conservative and strict man, who considers any person’s behavior, which is different from the behavior of the majority, as an inadmissible.
One day, three girls in bathing suits enter the shop. Sammy becomes charmed by them. While watching they are shopping at the store, he is examining their bodies. His sexual dreams do not leave his mind. However, we get to know that he is rather cynical about the two of the girls. It seems like they have failed his evaluation and cannot compete with the third one, whose appearance he considers as perfect. In his thoughts, he calls her Queenie. It seems like she is a leader among the three friends.
The confrontation occurs when the manager of the store criticizes the girls for their look and indicates to their bathing suits with reproof. The girls have to leave the store. Sammy feels himself hurt and disgusted. In a fit of temper, he leaves the job.
The consumer society is, undoubtedly, the main theme of the novel by John Updike. The author shows how much people are concerned about the satisfaction of their desires. He emphasizes that the customers at the shop are willing to buy the snacks rather than the food staff necessary for living.
They, essentially, spend their money on nothing. The character of Sammy is far more complicated as it seems at the first glance. Although, ironically, he is driven by his physical desires as the customers do, he feels an inner rejection of the commonly accepted way of life as well as of the hypocrisy and conservatism of the manager. Sammy rebels against the consumer society when he leaves his job.
The controversy is obvious in the plot of the novel. On the one hand, the main character feels rejection of the consumerism, and, on the other hand, he scrutinizes the figures of the girls from the consumer standpoint.
I guess the main idea of the novel is not only the shame on the primitive values of the consumer society but also, and maybe even more importantly, the shame on the conventionalism and non-acceptance of the views different from the ones, which are spread in the society.
The author blames the society for the hypocrisy and the duplicity. The ambiguity can be noticed in the attitude and behavior of the manager of the store. He upbraids the girls for their immodest look but is eager to facilitate the sales at his store at the same time. It becomes clear that he is a part of the consumer society as well but, in contrast to Sammy, his strict and conventional views do not allow him being open-minded and flexible.
The theme of human body also takes the central place in the novel. I think the author tries to show that people like a manager Lengel are cared about the look, which the others have, much more than about their inner nature. They forget about the spiritual side of the world.
The themes of the consumer society and the human body are closely interconnected. The sexy figures of the girls and the attitude of Sammy to them symbolically represent the temptations of the modern world. The question is how much the figures of these girls are different from the plenty of the snacks and other trifles offered at the store in the opinion of Sammy.
In order to sum up all above mentioned, it should be said that the novel A&P by John Updike depicts the reality of the modern society. The theme of consumerism takes the central place in the plot of the novel. The main character rebels against the hypocrisy and duplicity of the modern society. At the same time, he is tempted by it as well.
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The author emphasizes the ambiguity of the attitude of many people nowadays. On the one hand, they stand up for the modesty as well as for the certain model of behavior and are eager to enjoy the pleasures of the consumer society, on the other hand.