Interpretation of John Updikes A&P


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The first line of the story, “A&P, by John Updike, “In walks three girls in nothing but bathing suits”; (230) sets the tone for the rest of the story. The rest of the story is a description of how the main character Sammy, views not only the three girls in the bathing suits , but the rest of the women that are portrayed in the story. The main character of the story is a young guy, in the early 60s, who is working at a grocery store when these three young ladies walk in. He describes how they were scantily dressed and walking around the store, and the reactions of the others in the store, including himself, his co-workers, his manager and other customers. This story is about how a 19-year-old guy in 1961 viewed and objectified the women, young and old, entirely.
The first woman Sammy has dealings with after seeing 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 remember 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 believes 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 refers to as 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), indicating that he is really gawking at her backside. The second, he describes as the “tall one, with black hair that hadn’t 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). As she pulled out her money to pay for her purchase, Sammy talked about how he slowly un-creased the bill because it was retrieved from what he described as the “nicest two scoops of vanilla he has ever seen” (230); referencing the “queens” 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.

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He also indicates that she must have felt him watching, but “didn’t tip” (231); meaning she was unaffected by his 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), and nobody could care less. 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 inadequate 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 referred to them as “my girls”(235). Sammy was so displeased by his manager’s actions, which had embarrassed “his girls”; he quit his job, quickly enough for the girls to hear, “hoping they’ll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero” (234). Conscious that there were consequences to this action, he felt obligated to go through with it, believing the girls might appreciate the gesture. Sammy’s behavior was typical of a 19-year-old guy in the early 60’s. He gawked at young, presumably more attractive women and key-holed the older, less attractive women into what the norm in the 60’s had dictated.



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