A Feminist Perspective of Updike’s A&P
Two Works Cited John Updike’s story, "A&P," starts off: "In walks three girls in nothing but bathing suits," and that pretty much sums it all up (Updike 1026). In the story, not only are the girls in bathing suits looked upon as sex objects, but other women are negatively viewed as witches, farm animals, or slaves. This story is about how a young man in the early 1960’s viewed women as a whole, including his own mother.
At the beginning of the story Sammy complains about an older woman, a fifty-year-old "witch" with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, who is waiting to check out her groceries. She gets annoyed with Sammy because he is too busy drooling over the young flesh which has just walked in the door (Updike 1026). The first half-naked girl who walks into the A&P and catches Sammy’s eye is a chunky girl with a two-piece plaid bathing suit on that showed off her "sweet broad soft-looking can" (Updike l026). As if staring at this girl’s backside wasn’t enough, Sammy also noticed "those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit" (Updike 1026).
How would this girl feel if she knew just how intensely this guy was scoping her out? Or better yet, how would you feel if someone’s eyes were glued to your backside when you were grocery shopping? That behavior, no matter what she was wearing, is totally unacceptable especially in a grocery store. Is Sammy at fault for not having any self control? It might be acceptable for this nineteen-year-old guy to check out a girl in her bathing suit; however, that would not have excused old McMahon, the deli guy, who patted his mouth and "sized up their joints" as the girls walked away from the counter (Updike 1027).
"Goony-Goony," the next victim of Sammy’s intentional harassment, was presented in the story as a rather tall girl with "black hair that hadn’t quite frizzed right" for Sammy’s taste (Updike 1026). He found some reason not to be interested in this girl, probably because he was intimidated by her height.
Obviously, perfection was not something he saw in anyone, except maybe the girl he referred to as "Queenie," who Sammy says, "has the nicest two scoops of vanilla breasts" he has ever seen (Updike 1028). However, if this girt was so perfect, why did he wonder if she had a mind or if it was just "a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar" (Updike 1026)? Is this not just another sign that maybe Sammy is not very interested in the way a female thinks or feels, but only in how she looks? He believes that the only thing on a girl’s mind is her mother’s lessons on "how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight" (Updike 1026). It seems as though Sammy has the "bee in a glass jar" kind of mind himself.
As Sammy watched Queenie "buzz" over to her two friends, it made his stomach (and who knows what else) rub the inside of his apron (Updike 1027). Sammy also observed the women in the store turn away when they noticed the girls (Updike l027). At this point, Sammy views all of the older, less attractive shoppers as "sheep" pushing their carts around in a herd, or as "house slaves in pin curlers" (Updike 1027). An example Sammy gives of a house slave is his own mother who ironed his white work shirt the night before (Updike 1029).
Sammy reveals in the story that he thinks it is all right for the young girls to walk around the store in their bathing suits, but other women, "women with six children and varicose veins," should put on some clothes before they get out of their cars (Hatcher 188).
Was Sammy’s behavior typical of a nineteen-year-old guy in the early 1960’s? Most likely it was, since he was raised in a time when women were not considered equal to men in many ways. Nevertheless, he was a teenage guy and they’re sometimes inclined to rude behavior. Sammy’s perspective of women in the 60s, however, would not be suitable today in the 90s.
Hatcher, Nathan. "Sammy’s Motive" Ode to Friendship and Other Essays. Ed. Connie Bellamy. VWC, 1996, 1997. 188-189.
Updike, John. "A&P." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1989. 1026-1030.
Coffman, Kalli. "A Turning Point." Ode to Friendship and Other Essays. Ed. Connie Bellamy. VWC, 1996, 1997. 190-191.
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