“A&P” Analysis


Hi, I’m Rebecca Balcarcel. Let’s talk about
A&P, John Updike’s short story. First of all, why in the world is Sammy quitting his job?
That’s the main question of this story, and if we can answer that, then we’ll
unlock the key to the entire story. Here he is at the grocery store where he works (A&P
is a grocery store) and he’s bored. He’s even, cleverly, made up a little song
that goes with the register noises. Right? The drawer pops out and little whistles and
bells, I don’t know, on the cash register, go off, and he’s made this little
song about it. He’s heard it over and over and over, and if you’ve ever had a repetitive
job, you know how boring it can be, and how you entertain yourself with little
creative things that you do in your head. So that’s the kind of situation Sammy is in.
Sammy also knows the store very well, because he tells us the “cereal-cookies-crackers
aisle,” all in one hyphenated phrase. It conveys how, again, he’s very familiar with the grocery
store, and he’s kind of bored. Uh, the style is important
in revealing Sammy’s teenage voice and situating him in the store as an employee who has been
there too long, perhaps. Now still, why did he quit his job there? Okay,
well he looks at his friend Stokesie (he’s a coworker) and he says, “You know, that’s
not really the life for me. Stokesie’s married, he has two children, but that’s not
the life that I see for myself, at least not now.” Sammy is hoping for something bigger,
something better, more adventurous… We don’t know exactly, but
Stokesie is one of the possible futures he could have, and he rejects that. Another possible
future Sammy could have is Lengel. Lengel’s the boss, kind of a stick-in-the-mud,
you know, um, pretty conservative Sunday school teacher, you know, good for him, but that’s
not the life that Sammy wants either. Lengel represents the
conservative community, the very wholesome, sweet town that Sammy lives in, and, uh, you
know, great place to raise kids, but for young men like Sammy… Eh, boring. Now
the third possibility for Sammy, besides Stokesie-Lengel, is Queenie, the tall girl, or not the tallest
girl, but the lead girl in this group of girls who come
into the grocery store. Now, when these girls walk into the grocery store, they create a
stir. All the other shoppers, the sheep who are just, you know, going through
their routine of shopping, they are popped out of their normal routine, and realize,
“Oh my gosh! There’s girls here, and they’re wearing nothing but swimsuits.” And
it rocks the boat a little bit. Sammy finds this interesting and entertaining. Of course,
he’s attracted to the girls somewhat, you know, he critiques how they
look and all that. But what’s more important is that he realizes that these girls are,
uh, an injection of freshness and adventure into the boring A&P. Now when Queenie
comes up to the register, he sees a contrast between her and her life, and the A&P life,
or the little sleepy town life that he is part of. She buys Herring Snacks.
Now that may seem like an insignificant detail but it’s actually quite important, because
it shows her level. She is richer than, uh, Sammy. She is higher class.
At her house they drink martinis. At least that’s what Sammy thinks. He projects on to
her a whole life that is quite refined and pleasant and more interesting
than his life. He says, at his house, they just eat out of, uh… or they drink out of
these glasses with logos on the front, maybe from, you know, some fast-food restaurant,
or something, so he sees Queenie’s life as the more desireable life, and when he imagines
where she lives, imagines a whole life that she comes from, that is
the life that he is interested in for himself. That’s where he sees himself. So, when Lengel
insults these girls, immediately he has insulted Sammy’s dream of becoming
like them. And so, when Lengel says, “You girls shouldn’t be in here,” and, you know,
he makes this big stance about rules and what- whatnot, Sammy says to himself,
“Well, that’s not right. These girls are- are wonderful. They’re bringing the beach
here…” You know, the town is near the beach, but no one goes to the beach, but,
“here come the girls, reminding us of our beach, reminding us of life, of energy, of
doing things differently.” The sleepy town is not the only possibility for Sammy,
when he sees those girls. So Lengel insults them, and Sammy takes offense on their behalf.
“Why are you insulting these lovely ladies?” And when he quits his job,
it’s him taking a stand, making his first adult decision. He realizes there will be
consequences (the very ending lines of the story, uh, talk about the burden that
he’ll be under now) but he is ready to face that, because for the first time, he’s choosing,
uh, to act in his own life. The job… He didn’t really go after that
job. In fact, his parents kind of got the job for him. His parents are friends of Lengel,
so, you know, that wasn’t really independent step for him. Instead, quitting
becomes the independent step. So, he feels good about himself, even though Queenie did
not notice him, the- none of the girls saw him do this heroic act. Uh, but
still he’s proud of himself, and he’s going to grow, he’s- he’s on his way. Alright, I
hope that helps you understand A&P by John Updike.

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