An Analysis of John Updike's A&P
Length: 715 words (2 double-spaced pages)
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This Story takes place in 1961, in a small New England town's A&P grocery store. Sammy, the narrator, is introduced as a grocery checker and an observer of the store's patrons. He finds himself fascinated by a particular group of girls. Just in from the beach and still in their bathing suits, they are a stark contrast, to the otherwise plain store interior. As they go about their errands, Sammy observes the reactions, of the other customers, to this trio of young women. He uses the word "Sheep" to describe the store regulars, as they seem to follow one and other, in their actions and reactions. The girls, however, appear to be unique in all aspects of their beings: walking, down the isles, against the grain: going barefoot and in swim suits, amongst the properly attired clientele. They are different and this is what catches and holds Sammy's attention. He sees them in such detail, that he can even see the queen of the bunch. Sammy observes their movements and gestures, up until the time of their checkout. At which point, they are confronted by the store manager and chastised for their unacceptable appearance. He believes their attire to be indecent. Sammy, feeling that the managerial display was unnecessary and unduly embarrassing for the girls, decides to quit his position as checker. Thought he knows that his decision may be hasty, he knows that he has to follow through and he can never go back. He leaves, with a clean conscious, but the burden of not knowing what the future has in store.
This story represents a coming-of-age for Sammy. Though it takes place over the period of a few minutes, it represents a much larger process of maturation. From the time the girls enter the grocery store, to the moment they leave, you can see changes in Sammy. At first, he sees only the physicality of the girls: how they look and what they are wearing, seem to be his only observations. As the story progresses, he notices the interactions between the girls, and he even determines the hierarchy of the small dynamic. He observes their actions and how they affect the other patrons of the business. Rather, how the other people view the girl's actions. His thought process is maturing and he starts to see things as an adult might see them.
He notices that the "regulars", seem to do the same things day in and day out. Following the same path and directions through the isles, they check off their lists and go about their searching. This realization is why the group of girls is so refreshing to him. They ARE different and do not seem to follow any set path. They seem to live in the now. After seeing this, he starts to feel bad about the way the girls are being viewed by others. He no longer wants to be part of something that discourages uniqueness. This is further supported in the checkout scene, when he makes the comment about the policy and how it is what the "kingpins" want. It is not something that he believes in, nor does he want to enforce. Sammy starts to feel, for the first time, that there is something out there that is better. He is ready to go find it. When he decides to quit his job, hastily as it may be, he is making the choice to be an individual, to venture into the unknown. It is something that he knows he has to do, so he does have some hesitation in "removing the apron". Once it has been removed, he knows that he cannot put it back on. This symbolizes his acceptance of having to move on in life. When the manager makes reference to Sammy's decision and in it's effect on his parents, it is a representation of Sammy's coming-of-age. He is leaving his adolescence behind and this always has some effect on parents. It is hard for them to let their children go, into adulthood. This time is something that he says his family looks back on as sad, but he does not see it that way, at all. Sammy sees it as a time that he took a significant step towards becoming a man.