Hidden Class Struggle in John Updike's A&P
Length: 614 words (1.8 double-spaced pages)
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The Hidden Class Struggle in Updike’s A & P
Two Works Cited In John Updike’s "A & P," Sammy is accused of quitting his job for childlike, immature reasons. Nathan Hatcher states, "In reality, Sammy quit his job not on a matter of ideals, but rather as a means of showing off and trying to impress the girls, specially Queenie" (37), but Sammy’s motive runs much deeper than that. He was searching for a sense of personal gain and satisfaction. By taking sides with the girls, he momentarily rises in class to meet their standards and the standards of the upper-class.
Sammy was obviously near the bottom of the class ladder, a place where he was extremely unhappy. His dead-end job at the grocery store, where lower class citizens are the prime patrons, was not a place he felt he belonged. He wanted to be a member of the family where the "father and the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big glass plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them" (Updike 1028). Sammy realizes that Queenie comes from this sort of background, a very different one from his. When Queenie is being harassed by Lengel, Sammy sees that "she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy" (Updike 1028). Queenie’s family was in the class that he envied, that he admired, that he wanted to become a part of.
So Sammy quits his job to prove to himself, maybe to others, that he belongs in this "place." Quitting his job is his first step in achieving this goal. Sammy was obviously enthralled by the girls from the moment they walked in the A & P. He was not keen on the other two girls, but Queenie overwhelmed him. He may have even taken a liking to Queenie, but any average, nineteen-year old male would do the same after witnessing such striking beauty as is described. On the other hand, the average male would not quit a job and create such turmoil if first impression was the only cause. How interested could he actually be? In trying to figure out Queenie’s persona, he asks, "do you really think it’s a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?
" (Updike 1026). This is clue enough that he was more interested in the posing the question than in his chances of winning the heart of Queenie.
Nathan Hatcher felt that his quitting the job was a ridiculous and spontaneous decision: "Had he taken the time to think over his actions before he carried them out, he would have seen how foolish he was being and would not have gone through with them" (38). Yet Sammy’s frustration and inferiority complex had been building for a long time. Sammy had to act out and this was the perfect opportunity. His lust for Queenie was not just physical — he wanted to be "of her kind," and this was his chance.
Sammy quits his job for reasons that run much deeper than impressing a couple of girls. He did not necessarily want Queenie, but instead, he wanted her way of living. Sammy admired and envied the girls for their social standing and that’s what he was after.
Hatcher, Nathan. "Sammy’s Motive." Ode to Friendship & Other Essays. Ed. Connie Bellamy. Norfolk, Virginia: 1996. 37-38.
Updike, John. "A & P." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.