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Essay Sammy and the Setting in John Updike's "A&P"

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John Updike's "A&P" is about a boy named Sammy, who lives a simple life while working in a supermarket he seems to despise. As he is following his daily routine, three girls in bathing suits enter the store. The girls affect everyone's monotonous lives, especially Sammy's. Because the girls disrupt the routines of the store, Sammy becomes aware of his life and decides to change himself.

Before the girls enter the store, Sammy is unaware that the setting he is so judgmental of reflects his own life. Sammy feels that he is better than the rest of people at the A&P, referring to them as "sheep" and "house-slaves" because they never break from their daily routines. He also condescendingly talks about "whatever it is they[the customers]...mutter." Reinforcing his superiority above the people in the store, Sammy sees himself as a person that can seldom be "trip[ped]...up." Although he sees himself being superior to the store, the reality is that the store closely reflects Sammy's life. He seems to have a long-term commitment to the store since his apron has his name stitched on it, and he has been working at the store long enough to have memorized the entire contents of the "cat-and-dog-food-breakfast-cereal-macaroni-rice-raisins-seasonings-spreads-spaghetti-soft drinks-crackers-and-cookies." His day is also filled with the routine of working at the register, a routine that is so familiar that he has created a cash register song. Sammy also identifies with his co-worker Stokesie, "the responsible married man," and therefore wishes to someday be the manager of the store, like Lengel. Even the "checkerboard" floor represents a game of checkers, a simple one-directional game that closely models Sammy's life. Although Sammy is nineteen ...


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...of life. He is no longer buying the old ideas, but, instead, identifying with the "pee-pul," not the store. By removing his apron, shrugging it off his shoulder just as Queenie did with her bathing suit, Sammy severs his ties to the store and also solidifies his identification with Queenie. Finalizing his resignation, he exits the store into the "sunshine skating," a new natural light with no pattern, in the parking lot. He now looks back at the A&P and understands the risk he has taken by leaving the safety that his parents had reserved for him at the store.

Now that Sammy has chosen to become a juvenile delinquent, he realizes "how hard the world was going to be" for him in the future. He has left a life of safety and direction for one of the complete opposite, and he must be willing to accept the responsibilities of his actions, no matter the consequences.



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