A&P by John Updike
Length: 1207 words (3.4 double-spaced pages)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
As people age, maturity and wisdom is gained through every experiences. From the time a child turns eighteen and becomes an adult, they are required to deal with the realities of the real world and learn how to handle its responsibilities. In John Updike's short story, "A&P", the protagonist Sammy, a young boy of nineteen, makes a drastic change to his life fueled by nothing more than his immaturity and desire to do what he wants and because of that, he has do deal with the consequences.
From the beginning of the story, it is clear that Sammy in no way likes his job, nor is he fond of the customers and people he is surrounded by each day. To Sammy, they are nothing more than "sheep" going through the motions of life. "I bet you could set off dynamite in an A&P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists and muttering Let me see, there was a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce!' or whatever it was they do mutter." (Updike, 693). He view them negatively; to him they are boring and useless, living mundane and unimportant lives and it's obvious through Sammy's portrayal of them that he doesn't want to ever become one of them, nor does he want to be around them any longer.
It is also clear that for Sammy and everyone else who works at the A&P that the job is boring, simply by the way they react to the arrival of the three unique teenage girls. Granted the only people working in the store are men, they still find the arrival of the girls to be extremely exciting and an event worth waiting for. "The store's pretty empty, it being Thursday afternoon, so there was nothing much to do except lean on the register and wait for the girls to show up again"(Updike 694). They take pleasure in the girls visits, and when they do arrive, Sammy makes it clear that he is not the only one captivated by them; McMahon at the meat counter is seen "sizing up their joints" (Updike 694) and Stokesie expresses a constant fixation with the girls as well, which he shares with Sammy the first time they come into the store. Also, in contrast to the "sheep", he views the girls as though they are superior to everyone else in the store. They stand out amongst the customers, "walking against the usual traffic"(Updike 693), and not blending in, and Sammy almost idolizes that; he sees the way their simplistic yet unique appearance and actions distinguish them and he seems to really appreciate it. About the "Queenie" he says "I mean, it was more than pretty"(Updike 693). And in reference to the other customer's reaction Sammy says " there was no doubt, this jiggled them. A few houseslaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct" (Updike 693). Although Sammy isn't really voicing a positive or negative stance on the issue here, he makes an effort to point out how unique and almost distracting they are to everyone in the store. It also becomes clear that Sammy wants to know more about them through his fixation with them, which may add to the reason he wanted to quit; he hoped to captivate their attention and gain their praise.
When Sammy sees the store manager, Lenegel, embarrass the girls, not only does Sammy see the ability to look gallant in front of his three mystery girls, like an "unsuspected hero" (Updike 695), he also sees the ability to get out of his boring nine to five job. Partially, because he is only nineteen and very immature in the way he views the world, he may have thought the girls would find him heroic. However, as soon as he quits his job he realizes that they didn't seem to care; it was just a silly childish fantasy he hoped would come true. After leaving the store, Sammy says "I look around for my girls, but they're gone of course" (Updike 696) as though he knew from the beginning that although in his mind it may have seemed like something worth praise, they really wouldn't care at all.
However, Sammy quitting is more for himself that the girls in the long run, after all if it was really for the girls he would've ceased quitting the moment the girls rushed out and "flicker[ed] across the lot to their car" (Updike 696). However he proceeds even with the negative aspects attached. "Sammy, you don't want to do this to your Mom and Dad,' he tells me. It's true, I don't. But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it." (Updike 696). Even though he knows this will be difficult for his family he continues to quit. On one hand, he is being mature by not backing down and changing his mind once he realizes the girls are gone, because he is right in that when you make decisions you must follow through with them. However the decision to quit was stupid, drastic, and an immature one to begin with.
The story ends with Sammy looking back at Lenegel in the store, saying "His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he'd just had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter" (Updike 696). The dark and unappealing imagery he uses to portray Lenegel and the store hints that he still views it negatively and he is most likely content with his decision to leave. However he ends realizing how much damage this silly impulse can and will cause him. This may be a lesson for Sammy in which he learns from and gains some maturity; he learns that there are consequences and positives to every situation and it is his responsibility to deal with them as they arise. In this particular situation, although he is happy to not be in his job, he now has to deal with telling his parents he quit and telling them why he made such a rash decision. Then he must deal with their feelings on the matter and what actions they take; they may not care, or it's possible, as the story and Lenegel suggest, that they will be upset and he will have to deal with that. Regardless, he will definitely learn from this.
Overall, the story of "A&P" summarizes for Sammy, a step towards maturity and towards learning; he learns about reality and how for every step you take there are consequences, and if you want something you have to deal with the issues that come with it.
Updike, John. "A&P." The Bedford Introduction To Literature. Ed. Editor's Name(s). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin, 2005. pg 692-696.