A&P, by John Updike
Length: 734 words (2.1 double-spaced pages)
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The first woman Sammy has contact with after observing the three girls, is a customer he describes as “a witch of about fifty years, with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows” (230). She has become impatient with him when he cannot recollect if he rang up her box of crackers, since the three younger girls distracted him. Sammy also says, “If she were born in the right time, they would have burned her over in Salem”, substantiating his characterization of her being a witch. He presumes that this woman’s purpose was to trip him up and get pleasure from it.
Sammy goes on to describe the three young women. The first one he calls the “chunky one” (230), whom he describes as having a “sweet broad soft looking can” (230), in reference to her backside. He also adds, “With two crescents of white under it where the sun never shines” (230), showing that he is really gawking at her backside. The second, he describes as the “tall one, with black hair that had not quite frizzled right, with a chin that was too long” (230) - the kind that other girls think is very “striking” (230) and “attractive” (230). The third, he described as the “queen” (230). She is the one he considers to be the most attractive of the girls, and the leader of the group. When she pulled out her money to pay for her purchase, Sammy talked about how he slowly un-creased the bill. It was retrieved from what he described as the “nicest two scoops of vanilla he has ever seen” (230); making reference to the queen’s breasts.
He also describes her bathing suit being off her shoulders, and that there was “nothing between the top of her suit and the top of her head but her”; alluding to more nakedness than is already apparent. He also shows that she must have felt him watching, but “didn’t tip” (231); denoting she was unaffected by his and the others gawking.
Sammy talks about the rest of the women shopping and refers to them as “house slaves in pin curlers”: as they too were also noticing the three girls in their swimsuits. He thinks that it is acceptable for young girls to walk around in bathing suits in the grocery store, but women in town usually put on shorts and shirts before getting out of their cars. Furthermore, these are usually “women with six kids and varicose veins” (232). Because of their age and lacking the appeal of a teenage girl, they would not cause a scene and no one would notice.
Sammy objectified all these women. The older women, the witches, the house slaves, and the mothers with six children were all unfavorable women and a nuisance to Sammy. Conversely, he viewed the young girls in bathing suits, especially the “Queen”, as being attractive, so much so, that he branded them as “my girls” (235). Sammy was so displeased by his manager’s actions, which had embarrassed “his girls”; he quit his job. He did it quickly enough for the girls to hear, “hoping they will stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero” (234). Conscious that there were consequences of this action, he felt obligated to go through with it, believing the girls might admire the gesture. Sammy’s behavior was typical of a 19-year-old guy in the early 1960’s. He gawked at the young, presumably more attractive women. He dismissed the older, less attractive women, by giving those women labels describing how they were perceived in those days.