A & P By John Updike

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For an author, word choice is the most important factor in conveying tone. In John Updike’s short story “A&P”, there are many variations of word choice that convey different tones towards the girls, towards himself, and towards authority. In the end there is also a major shift in tone that helps bring together this “coming of age” story. Because of the use of casual language, slang, and contractions, the overall tone of this story is informal and conversational and changes based on whom the narrator, Sammy, is talking about. The story starts immediately with Sammy noticing the group of girls that walk into A&P in their bathing suits. The first girl he mentions has “a sweet broad soft-looking can with…two crescents of white just under it…” Immediately, Updike uses this description to convey an amused and captivated tone regarding the girls. Sammy is amused by the fact that a group of teenage girls just walked into a grocery store in nothing but bathing suits but is captivated at the same time. He notices everything about their bodies. As the story starts to progress, Updike shifts the tone towards the girls from amused to judgmental. No longer do the girls in their bathing suits amuse Sammy, but he is now judging them for the way they look as “chubby,” “pretty pale,” and with “a chin that was too long.” He notices every imperfect feature on their body. As he observes the girls he notices their leader, “Queenie,” with “long white prima donna legs.” Right away he is infatuated with her. He notices her authority and respects it. From there the tone shifts away from judging the girls to being in awe of Queenie’s beauty. Through the story the tone towards Queenie remains captivated and admiring. At several points, Sammy notes little a... ... middle of paper ... ... doesn’t but says that it would be “fatal” if he didn’t go through with his decision at this point. When he walks out of the store Sammy realizes “how hard the world was going to be…hereafter.” This line alone provides for a very regretful but serious tone because he knows he made a mistake but now it’s up to him to fix it. The story ends in a very ominous tone as Updike leaves it somewhat open ended so the reader doesn’t really know what happens with Sammy. Considering the entire story, the tone could best be described as humorous and conversational with a hint of seriousness. Updike uses a multitude of different types of diction to convey Sammy’s different tones of judgmental, arrogant, and contemptuous towards girls, himself and his elders through the story. The use of the slang and informal language contribute to a casual story that conveys many different ideas.

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