A&P by John Updike is a short story written in 1961. Using satire and pure comedy, Updike investigates the issue of cultural norms in her story. The following John Updike’s A&P analysis will help you to understand the story in detail.
A&P: Brief Summary
An effective A&P by John Updike analysis can be conducted after knowing the plot of the story. Sammy is a young worker in a grocery store. He does not enjoy his job because it is too monotonous and boring. However, one incident at work becomes a turning point in Sammy’s life.
One day, three young girls in bikinis appear in the store. Their beautiful bodies immediately start drawing people’s attention. The author contrasts the conspicuous appearance of these girls with a slow-paced life in the store. Then, the manager of the store, Lengel, sees the girls and treats them unethically. He ashames them for their appearance and asks them to leave the store. However, Sammy sticks up for girls. As a protest to the manager’s behavior, the main character quits the job.
The events of that day change Sammy’s life perception. He matures from a teenager obsessed with fantasies to a man who understands the harsh reality of life. This transition from adolescence to adulthood is the key theme of Updike’s short story A&P.
A&P: Literary Analysis
Basically, the story explores three main themes. They are the setting, Sammy’s transformation, and his growth. While analyzing the A&P, each aspect should be examined separately. The given character analysis essay covers all three elements of the story and provides a solid ground for discussions.
Sammy does not live a fulfilling life. His job position does not bring him joy, and the A&P store settings reflect his inner world. The main character feels like he is wasting his life in the wrong place.
Working in a small grocery store, Sammy spends all day screening orders for customers. The work is very monotonous and does not inspire Sammy to be imaginative. He is bored so much that his mind often wanders off. Sometimes, he even screens some items twice.
Sammy’s work is often so tedious that he can hear songs from the cash register. The best he can hope for in his current position is becoming a manager. Sammy feels miserable at his job. Therefore, the three beautiful girls that came into the store bring a lot of happiness to him. He takes the mind off his career and away from his tiny, closed world.
Sammy understands that these girls are of higher social status than he is. They are pretty, independent, and self-confident. They have no problem entering the store in bikinis, so do not care about any rules and norms. Sammy starts dreaming about a luxurious life that he is incapable of reaching. Observing free and happy ladies, he wishes to have the same freedom. However, it is absent in his tiny and closed world.
The beautiful girls caused a great Sammy’s transformation. From the very beginning, he perceives the girls as an object of his inner fantasies. Simply noticing the divine beauty of their bodies in bathing suits, he is obsessed with them. Nevertheless, his attitude changes when McMahon, the local butcher, starts ogling the girls.
Sammy is insulted by McMahon’s behavior and feels sorry for girls. Now he perceives them as not merely objects of sexual attraction but as human beings. He understands that McMahon reflects his behavior. The butcher embodies the girls “patting his mouth and looking after them sizing up their joints” (J.Updike 1). It irritates the main character, and he changes his attitude towards girls. As the narrator states, Sammy seeks chivalry. So, he turns himself from a mere admirer to a defender of the girls.
Furthermore, Sammy is annoyed with the way his manager Lengel treats and embarrasses the girls. Thus, he stands up for the girls and takes control of the situation. He scolds the boss and, shortly after, decides to leave his job. His chivalrous act is futile and foolish. As the girls walk away from the store, they do not realize that Sammy’s deed was aimed at their behest.
Ultimately, Sammy does not get the girls’ attention as he had planned by protecting them. Nevertheless, he does himself a favor by gaining the strength to walk away from his tedious job. Sammy discovers that he is the only person who can decide his fate. He “refuses to be captured by conformity and monotony” like some kind of mindless cattle for slaughter in Updike’s A&P.
Instead, Sammy wants to “live honestly and meaningfully” (Mcfarland, 96). By refusing to obey his boss and quitting the job, he shows his self-liberation (Porter 1155).
By the end of the story, Sammy realizes that every action leads to a specific outcome. This a clear sign of maturity. While leaving his work, Sammy has a clear image of an uncertain and tough period. Unlike the three girls who make him lose his job, he is not from a wealthy family. His parents helped him to get him the job position only because they knew Lengel personally.
Although getting a job in this town may not be easy, Sammy is confident about his decision. He is ready to face a new, brutal reality, just like other ordinary people do at a particular stage in life.
The following “A&P” John Updike analysis described the transformation of Sammy’s personality. Throughout the story, he has evolved from a teen who was just interested in the girls’ physical appearance. Sammy is now a mature individual who desires the spiritual freedom of the girls. He understands the harsh realities of life and accepts them
Standing up to Lengel shows that Sammy has grown as a person. He is not going to adhere to society’s customs and traditions that are too restricting. He wants to move forward and discover the new world. The world that the three girls opened to him. He has left his job, and now he has to overcome the consequences of his choice.
A&P is considered by many critics to be a great example of postmodernism literature. Updike created an impressive piece of writing that remains relevant even nowadays through symbolism, imagery, and allegory.
- Mcfarland, Ronald. Updike and the Critics: Reflections on “A & P”. 1983, Studies in Short Fiction 2: 95+. Web. EBSCOhost database.
- Porter, Gilbert. John Updike’s ‘A & P’: The Establishment and an Emersonian Cashier. 1972, The English Journal, 61. 8:1155–1158. Web.