Analysis of A&P, by John Updike


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I quit! These words can be attached to so many things in life. At times in life things seem to be different then they really are, for instance the thrill and the excitement of having a summer job or even successfully getting a first job. There are certain moments in a person’s life that will always have an impact on them one could call this a definitive moment or an epiphany. In the short story A&P by John Updike the main character Sammy has an epiphany in that he realizes that a moral line has been crossed in his working environment.

The story is a simple conflict followed by definitive action short story. It’s a wonderful portrayal of what a young man thinks and what he will stand for and what he will not. The fascinating part is how Sammy describes the young ladies as they enter the convenience store. Updike states “She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs of her legs”. Sammy is only talking about one of the three young ladies in this description. The descriptive words in the story are very thought provoking; Updike refers to the girls derrieres as “cans”. Imagery and symbolism are used frequently through out the story; Sammy describes the shoppers inside the A&P Updike uses this description “sheep pushing their carts down the aisles”.

Updike uses Imagery to tell you where exactly where the A&P is located in the town, the lay out of the store and how Sammy’s co workers have a say in what he does and his work routine. Sammy is a nineteen year old man; he is no longer considered a minor by today’s’ society. He is trying to find out what he is doing working at a grocery store during the summer, in his mind he should be down on the beach checking out the ladies. The ocean seems to be just another aspect of the town, nothing too special. The following passage supports this Updike states “people in this town haven’t seen the ocean in twenty years”. Tourism is what drives ocean towns, and communities. It’s a simple matter of taxation the more money a city can make off of the natural or man made attractions the better off the city is.

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Sammy is from the working middle class the author doesn’t lead on that Sammy is a pauper or a debutant either he portrays Sammy as a normal male teenager. The typical characters are all displayed in the story, Sammy is the protagonist, and Lengel the store manager is the antagonist. At first it seems that A&P is the antagonist but, as the story goes on you can clearly see what role Lengel plays in becoming the antagonist. There is nothing wrong with taking pride in your job or exercising the authority given to you by being a manager, supervisor, shift leader, etc. Lengel takes his moral obligations into his apron so to speak, by giving the girls in the bathing suits the “this isn’t the beach young ladies” speech. Sammy describes Lengel as viewing the store as this great big dune and he is the head lifeguard. This description is very fitting for Lengel’s actions at the end of the story.

There are many different kinds of conflicts in A&P an internal conflict is waging between Sammy and himself, an external conflict is waging between Sammy and his manger Lengel. Sammy ultimately prevails against the internal conflict he faces, by walking out of the store once Lengel downs the girls for wearing bathing suits inside the grocery store. In today’s society it seems that if someone is wearing anything at all, much less a bathing suit that’s sufficient attire.

Sammy realizes that Lengel has crossed the line by embarrassing the girls because of their attire; he fights within himself on what to do after Lengel finishes addressing the girls. It’s the final few paragraphs in which the story is brought out, Sammy is fed up with working at the A&P and how Lengel reacts to the girls in their bathing suits seems to be the final thing to drive Sammy to the verge of quitting. Sammy has an epiphany when he realizes that there was no need in Lengel treating and embarrassing the girl’s the way he did. He up and quits, as the girls walk out of the door. In a way he is trying to make a statement about himself as well as what he believes in. But, at the same time he wants to the girls to hear him and then wait on him outside the store.

The scenario is playing in Sammy’s mind as he utters the words, “I Quit!” he envisions the girls waiting on him and saying “oh thanks Sammy, that guy was a jerk!” However, Sammy is sadly mistaken. Lengel not only tells him that he will “feel this for the rest of his life” which is true but, then he goes on to say “you don’t want to do this to your mom and dad”. The typical guilt trip, Sammy had a moral obligation in that he didn’t want to embarrass people for how they dressed. Lengel had one as well which is ironic, Lengel takes his out on the customers where as Sammy takes his out on Lengel and the A&P. Sammy realizes that he is in control of what he does, and is finally taking a stand for him and what he believes in. Sammy’s action show that he believes in himself and also his decision to quit the A&P. His decision in justified by Lengel saying “It was they who were embarrassing us”.



Works Cited


Updike, John. "A&P." The Bedford Introduction To Literature. Ed. Editor's Name(s). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin, 2005. pg 692-696.


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