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Essay on Sensuality vs. Reality in Ernest Hemingway's Short Story A&P

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Sensuality vs. Reality in Ernest Hemingway's Short Story A&P


John Updike once said, "Man lacks grace because he has retreated from responsibility into sensuality." Sammy, the protagonist in Updike's short story, "A&P", is a perfect literary representation of this quote. During the course of "A&P", he runs from every responsibility he has, just to make himself feel better. He gets distracted from his duties at work and makes mistakes because he is busy gawking at some girls, and he ultimately quits those duties simply to try to impress those girls. Even though Sammy is nineteen, he is not mature enough to hold to his own responsibilities. Rather, he runs from them to retreat into his own sensuality.
"In walks three girls in nothing but bathing suits"(Kennedy 13). This is how the story "A&P", and subsequently, Sammy's shirking of his duties begins. The usual customers at the store where Sammy works are "sheep"(Kennedy14); they are old, dull people that would not cause a distraction for a nineteen year-old boy. These girls, however, are something new in Sammy's work routine. Throughout the entire story, Sammy is focused on these girls. When they enter, he begins to describe one, "She was a chunky kid…"(Kennedy 13). As they walk through the store, he notices miniscule details about the girls and even makes generalizations on what their personalities are like. "There was this tall one…the kind of girl others think is very 'striking' and 'attractive'…and then the third one…She was the queen…but you got the idea that she had talked the other two into coming in here with her"(Kennedy 13). He watches them walk "against the usual traffic"(Kennedy 14), and wonders why they are at the A&P, ...


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This entire story focuses on how Sammy fits the quote that began this essay. Every move he makes throughout the story is a retreat from responsibility into sensuality; what makes him feel good. He does not take one responsibility seriously after the girls walk in to the A&P where he works. Rather, he only does things that make him feel good. Staring at the girls, wondering about their lives, quitting his job: all of these things he did because it felt good. It felt great to watch those bathing suits meander through "the cool of the A&P"(Kennedy 14). It was pleasurable to daydream about their personalities and lives. Certainly it was self-empowering to say the words "I quit"(Kennedy 16). The girls' "unsuspecting hero"(Kennedy 16). Sadly, Sammy's few minutes of pleasure land him on the street, looking for the girls, and searching for what to do next.


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