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From Childhood to Adulthood in Updike's A&P Essay

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From Childhood to Adulthood in Updike's A&P


Sammy is stuck in that difficult transition between childhood and adulthood. He is a nineteen-year-old cashier at an A&P, the protagonist in a story with the same name. John Updike, the author of "A&P," writes from Sammy's point of view, making him not only the main character but also the first person narrator. The tone of the story is set by Sammy's attitude, which is nonchalant but frank--he calls things as he sees them. There is a hint of sarcasm in Sammy's thoughts, for he tends to make crude references to everything he observes. Updike uses this motif to develop the character of Sammy, as many of these references relate to the idea of "play."

Sammy is no longer a child, but much of what he observes he describes as the play that he did as a child. The way he thinks can also be described as childlike play, in terms of his being disrespectful and needing to show off. Updike demonstrates, however, that Sammy desires to be thought of as an adult, and many of his references are to the type of play that adults might engage in. Sammy, like many adults, does not think in what is considered an adult manner, but Updike uses the plot's climax and conclusion to show that Sammy has learned a tough lesson that will speed up his transition into adulthood.

Sammy begins to play from the moment he lays eyes on three girls who enter the A&P one slow summer Thursday evening during the early 1960s. He comes up with a name, based on appearance, for each of the barely dressed girls. He nicknames them as children do to poke fun at one another. Ronald E. McFarland describes how this name-calling "indicate[s] his immaturity and lack of compassion" (99). Sammy makes fun of customers as well: McFarl...


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...ammy's case, it is provoked by this incident at the A&P, which he will probably never forget. His "stomach kind of fell as [he] felt how hard the world was going to be to [him] thereafter" (31). He learns that life is not a game and that people, especially superiors, cannot be "played." Fun is certainly acceptable, but not when it is demeaning or disrespectful to other people.

Works Cited

Day, Frank. John Updike Revisited. New York, NY: Twayne Publishers, 1998.

McFarland, Ronald E. "Updike and the Critics: Reflections on 'A&P.'" Studies in Short Fiction 20.2-3 (1983): 95-100.

Shaw, Patrick W. "Checking Out Faith and Lust: Hawthorne's 'Young Goodman Brown' and Updike's 'A&P.'" Studies in Short Fiction 23.3 (1988): 321-323.

Updike, John. "A&P." Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. Robert DiYanni. 5th ed. New York, NY: McGraw, 2002. 27-31.


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