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Analysis of the Short Story “A&P” by John Updike

Introduction

“A&P” is a short story written by John Updike, an American novelist, poet, and literary critic. The story was initially published in 1961 in The New Yorker. Updike tells the story of Sammy, a nineteen-year-old working in a small-town grocery store. The central conflict in the plot revolves around Sammy, allowing girls, who are dressed in bathing suits without any beach around, to come in and shop for what they need. The manager, Lengel, asks to tell the girls to leave. Sammy, holding his position that the girls should not be scrutinized for what they wear, makes a bold move and decides to quit on the spot. By doing so, Sammy shows that he does not like being commanded, admitting to himself that the job was not that important, and he could do something more exciting and successful in his life.

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The main character of Sammy, who is also the narrator of the story, takes the stance of an observer who looks at the life in his town from a critical but humorous perspective. “The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle – the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one-way signs or anything) – were pretty hilarious” (Updike 2). Sammy is a young man who gets immediately interested in the girls who are acting in a different and funny. The traits illustrated by the quote are that he is observant, has a good sense of humor, but can also be critical of people, which makes him a round character. This quote helps to understand the tone of the story, showing Sammy’s interest in the girls.

Sammy is still learning about his job but seems not to take it too seriously, which is a trait that many young people share. “I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers, trying to remember if I rang it up or not. I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell” (Updike 1). The quote shows that Sammy is up to making mistakes because it is the only way that would help him learn, which is the trait of a dynamic character. This quote sets the stage for the story’s finale by showing that Sammy is not the one to hesitate: “So I say “I quit” to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they’ll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero” (Updike 4). By quitting, Sammy shows strong will and determination, which contributes to his roundness as an individual who wishes to be a good person.

The secondary character of Lengel, the store manager, who is older and much more conservative than Sammy, helps to create an opposition of two different personas within the story. “Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency” (Updike 4). The quote shows that Lengel is close-minded, disrespectful to those who are younger than him and only follows a strict set of rules. This makes him a flat and static character with no development in the story. His characterization is intentional to juxtapose Lengel to Sammy, contributing to their conflict. “I don’t think you know what you’re saying, Lengel said. […] “Sammy, you don’t want to do this to your Mom and Dad.” (Updike 5). In this quote, Lengel is trying to show superiority as an older adult, appealing to Sammy to consider his parents when quitting his job. As a flat and static character, he does not try to consider what Sammy feels and thinks.

Conclusion

In summary, “A&P” is about the coming of age, the transition of a male from childhood into adulthood, which is associated with a crucial decision. While the childish part in Sammy wanted to seem like a hero to those girls, the adult part in him reveals as he stands up against a more mature and authoritative figure, dedicated to holding his ground. Adults often have to make hard choices to preserve their sense of self, and this was what Sammy did in the story.

Work Cited

Updike, John. A & P. Literature A Portable Anthology. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, March 10). Analysis of the Short Story “A&P” by John Updike. https://studycorgi.com/analysis-of-the-short-story-a-and-ampp-by-john-updike/

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StudyCorgi. "Analysis of the Short Story “A&P” by John Updike." March 10, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/analysis-of-the-short-story-a-and-ampp-by-john-updike/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Analysis of the Short Story “A&P” by John Updike." March 10, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/analysis-of-the-short-story-a-and-ampp-by-john-updike/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Analysis of the Short Story “A&P” by John Updike'. 10 March.

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