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Essay about A & P by John Updike

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A & P

John Updike, one of the most forward-thinking and socially provocative writers of the 50s and 60s, is known for his “incisive presentation of the quandaries of contemporary personal and social life.” (Lawn 529) Updike graduated from Harvard University and wrote for one of the more cutting edge publications like The New Yorker- both are notoriously ahead of their time and harbor controversial ideas. In his short story “A&P”, Updike reveals a young man named Sammy in a society on the brink of a social revolution- one in which a group of girls and an innocent cashier will unknowingly lead. Updike, through symbolism and syntax, shows how the girls are leading the revolution, how Sammy is feeling the wrath of this revolution, and which part each of the characters represent.

There exists a resort five miles outside of a town that is, without a doubt, where many of the townspeople work and make their living. The residents of this lower-middle class town most likely are the housekeepers and general blue collar workers for the resort. Within this perspective there lies an inherent distaste for the visitors to the resort. They are the servants to these upper-class vacationers. Most likely from New York or Boston, these trendy and privileged visitors overrun the area in the summers.
“In walks these three girls”; the story begins innocently enough. However, Updike does not leave it at that. He continues, “… in nothing but bathing suits.” (Lawn 399) The author has given us a wealth of underlying information with this simple description. Upon further reading, the readers realize that these three girls are walking into a conservative small town grocery store in 1961. Not only are they wearing bathing suits, but they ar...


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...ieved a release from a mental or social prison.

John Updike has given the reader a sense of passage. A sense of a greater meaning to the story exists as well. The three main characters or groups in this story all revolve around the time period in which “A&P” was written. Lengel is the old ways of the world. The young girls represent the new ages, the times to come. Sammy, while still a youth, is the awkward transition period: the see-saw and the tug-of-war going on between the two. Eventually Sammy chooses to move into the future. Although he has no one to follow (the girls left the parking lot and disappeared) and no guiding force, he is willing to give up what he comfortably had for an uncertain, but certainly more difficult, way of life.

Works Cited

Lawn, Beverly., ed. 40 Short Stories; A Portable Anthology. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001.


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