John Updike's short story "A & P" reveals nineteen-year old Sammy, the central character, as a complex person. Although Sammy appears, on the surface, as carefree and driven by male hormones, he has a lengthy agenda to settle. Through depersonalization, Sammy reveals his ideas about sexuality, social class, stereotypes, responsibility, and authority. Updike's technique, his motif, is repeated again and again through the active teenage mind of the narrator Sammy.
Sammy is, like most young men, object-minded. The object of his mind is the female body. Although his upbringing and the fact that he is at work do not allow him to voice his admiration for the girls in bikinis at the A & P, he lets the reader know, in no uncertain terms, what he is thinking. He gives each girl a name--Plaid, Big Tall Goony Goony, and Queenie--based on his evaluation of their physical body parts. The game is one that teenagers play the world over, with countless hours spent seeing and being seen. The primary object to view, in Sammy's eyes, is the queen. He describes how "she must have felt in the corner of her eye me and over my shoulder Stokesie in the second slot watching, but she didn't tip. Not this queen" (28). Sammy goes on to tell how "she [...] turned so slow it made [his] stomach rub the inside of [his] apron" (28). The irony of the setting is that the girls, dressed in nothing but swimsuits, have turned the neighborhood grocery store into a human meat market, with themselves as the commodity of choice for the male consumer.
In Sammy's mind's eye, the queen was of such regal bearing that she commanded his worship. He envisioned his well-bred idol as being of a higher social class than his own. ...
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...iphany that afternoon in the A & P.
Sammy's immaturity and lack of experience were largely to blame for his wrestling with conflicting roles in his transition from child to adult. Updike's protagonist was at the same time an imaginative, observant young man who stood by his convictions, defending the girls to the end. Sammy was perhaps more intelligent and more gutsy than one would like to give him credit for, however. He knew what he did not want out of life. On that Thursday afternoon in the A & P, his name game caught up with him. Quitting his job was to be a turning point for him, a time for him to confront his own issues of sexuality, social class, stereotyping, responsibility, and, on a deeper leve, authority.
Updike, John. "A & P." Literature: Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. Ed. Robert DiYanni. 5th ed. New York: McGraw, 1998. 27-31.
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