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Literature: “A&P” by John Updike Essay



The action of the story A&P, written by John Updike, takes place in a big supermarket in a small provincial town in New England. The main character of the story is a nineteen-year-old employee of this store, Sammy. One day the daily routine of the supermarket is ruined by the event that is considered abnormal for their town. Three girls in bathing suits have entered the supermarket, and all gazes of customers as well as of employees are fastened on them.

To emphasize the unusualness of the situation, the narrator describes these girls in comparison with the ordinary female visitors of the store. Apart from the fact that the girls are “in nothing but bathing suits” (Updike par.1), they are “walking against the usual traffic” (Updike par.5), making in such a way a big contrast to all the usual customers.

Sammy scorns the visitors of the store, comparing them with animals and giving them offensive nicknames. All the female customers of the supermarket are sheep in Sammys vision, and he also criticizes purchases made by them. For Sammy, the customers behaviors in the supermarket are obvious. He observes them every day of his work. However, these girls impress him greatly. He especially likes the girl whom he calls Queenie. Sammy admires her beauty, and in spite of the fact that he describes her with definite sexual overtones, in his imagination, she is a representative of higher society. These girls for Sammy are creatures of another world where there are no dull customers, noisy cash registers, and boring obligations.

Sammy is impressed by the fact that the girls buy only one item, whereas the majority of customers of the “A&P” do their shopping with an impressive list of goods. For Sammy, the mere fact that these girls buy herring snacks is amazing. It is a rather expensive purchase for Sammy and his family. The way Queenie says about her buying evokes different images in Sammys mind. He dreams about a world where “men are standing around in ice-cream coats, and bow ties and the women are in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate” (Updike par.14).

The Store’s Manager Lengel

The obvious contradiction to these girls is the manager of the store Lengel by name. It is rather difficult to evaluate his actions, but he gives redirection to the girls concerning their appearance. As a manager of the supermarket, he thinks that the girls’ behavior is offensive for the consumers and for the staff. Their conversation catches the interest of all people in the store. Even Stokesie, who is another employee of the supermarket, opens “a paper bag as gently as peeling a peach, not wanting to miss a word” (Updike par.21).

The actions of the manager have outraged Sammy, and he makes a decision to quit. At the same time, he does it in a demonstrative manner wishing the girls to appreciate his deed. However, the girls have not paid attention to “their unsuspected hero” (Updike par.22).

It is rather difficult to judge whether it is Lengels warning to these girls that have affected Sammys decision, or maybe this conversation is the last straw that has broken the camels back. On the one hand, Sammy understands “how hard the world is going to be to him hereafter” (Updike par.32). On the other hand, even realizing all the consequences of his quit, Sammy is not disappointed. As Sammy puts it, “my family says it’s sad, but I don’t think it’s sad myself” (Updike par.12).

The Consequences of Sammy’s Actions

For Sammy, his quit means the escape from the surrounding reality. He is not satisfied with the existing state of things and does not want to work in the place where “the sheep push their carts down the aisle” (Updike par.5) as well as he does not want to look like he’s married colleague who is highly dependent upon his job because he has a family and two children. Sammy is not eager to wait all his life for unreal career promotion. Therefore, he folds the apron and “drops the bow ties on the top of it” (Updike par.31). Sammys gesture is very symbolic. The apron and the bow ties are those things that connect Sammy with this supermarket. Due to these attributes, Sammy may be considered as an employee of this store. Getting rid of them means cutting ties with the “A&P.” Nevertheless, he leaves these attributes of this supermarket and leaves.


The main theme reveled in Updikes story is a problem of choice. Sammy realizes all the consequences of his quit, but at the same time he does not want to accept the existing norms of the society. The policy is not for Sammy. “Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency” (Updike par.22). Sally makes his choice. He is unsatisfied with his day-to-day duties, with crowds of consumers who irritate him. It is possible to say that Sammys decision to quit has been made in an unthinking moment just because of the desire to get acquainted with the girls. However, the reason is not so tangible. Among all the customers and employees of the supermarket who are enjoying the conflict “not wanting to miss a world” (Updike par.21), Sammy is the only person who presses his point.

Works cited

Updike, John. . n.d. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Literature: "A&P" by John Updike." June 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/literature-aampp-by-john-updike/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Literature: "A&P" by John Updike'. 11 June.

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