In the short story "A & P" the author, John Updike, uses the motif of play as one of the main means by which he develops the character of Sammy, the nineteen-year-old narrator and protagonist of the story. In his many and varied references to play, Sammy reveals, along with his obvious immaturity, his rich imagination and potential for possible growth.
The story takes place in the summertime of 1960 on a Thursday afternoon. Sammy is employed at the A & P grocery store located in the middle of a town north of Boston, about five miles from the beach.
Along with Sammy, the other characters involved in this story are three girls shopping in the A & P in their bathing suits, whom Sammy names Plaid, Queenie and Big Tall Goony-Goony; Stokesie, Sammy's married co-worker; and Lengel, the A & P manager.
"A & P" is told from Sammy's point of view. Sammy presents himself as a nonchalant and flippant young man. He appears to be somewhat contemptuous of the older people shopping in the store. However, near the end of the story, we see that he does take responsibility for his conscience-driven behavior and decision, revealing his passage out of adolescence into adulthood through the courage of his convictions.
We see Sammy's immaturity at its worst with his snide labeling of the customers in the A & P. An example of this occurs when he calls one lady "a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows" (p.33). Sammy places the blame on her for his mistake at the cash register. He claims she would have been burned at the stake in Salem if she had been alive then. In another instance, he refers to the housewives shopping as "houseslaves in pin curlers" (p.34). He seems to be fo...
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...gives him some insight into his future. As he is walking away from the A & P he sees "Lengel in [his] place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he'd just had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter" (p.37). Sammy begins his transition from adolescence into adulthood here. He realizes that if he stays at the A & P he may end up like Lengel or the other sheep. He wants more out of life and his fantasy about being Queenie's "unsuspected hero" (p.36) allows him to escape. Sammy comes to the conclusion that life is not going to be easy and he is going to make decisions for himself that the people around him will not necessarily support.
Updike, John. "A & P." Literature (4th ed). Ed. Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
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