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A Feminist Reading Of John Updike's A&P

1336 words - 5 pages

A Feminist Reading of A&P

Gone are the days that humans could live impulsively, only taking physical pain and pleasure into account when making decisions. Or so one would like to believe. In a display of sheer innocence and ignorance, Sammy, a grocery clerk at the A & P, managed to revert back to the original behavior patterns of his ape-like ancestors. One cannot possibly predict the future of Sammy, given his own illogical and irrational behavior. But one can, through a careful examination of Sammy's life, determine that Sammy is just a naive, young man whose impulsive acts, partly as a consequence of his upbringing, compel him to participate in a cause not worth fighting for, instead of using his talents for more constructive purposes.

No matter how much Sammy tried, he could not transcend the rational barriers of his evolutionary counterpart, the ape. From the moment that Sammy first gazed upon those three young women in bathing suits to his outburst and subsequent resignation, Sammy was not able to separate reason from basic sexual instinct. Sammy first makes the comment, "The longer her neck was, the more of her there was," (Updike 408) and later says, "From the third slot I look straight up this aisle to the meat counter, and I watched them all the way" (Updike 408). After hours--perhaps even years--of being deprived of the sight of a beautiful girl, Sammy gave in to the natural animal tendency to "observe" and pursue a member of the opposite sex. It was of no consequence to Sammy that he did not even know the three girls and had not seen very much of them. Sammy's only overriding desire was, simply put, sex. Sammy made no effort to rationally think about what he was doing; instead, he acted on an impulse stemming from the most primal instincts. When the three girls walked into the A & P, Sammy was no more a rational being than Spock was a comedian. He had only one goal: do everything in his power to impress the girls, making sure they would not escape the hallowed A & P without having awe-filled reverence for the grocery clerk named Sammy. However, from the beginning, Sammy's idealistic dreams of renown had a sour taste to them.

Sammy began his grocery clerk glory days as a victim of his own parents' over watchfulness. His parents had known Lengel, the store manager, for years, and took it upon themselves to get Sammy a job. Perhaps his parents believed that doing Sammy's dirty work would somehow shelter Sammy from the so-called "real world," or perhaps they merely wanted the best for their son, and getting him a job was their way of giving Sammy what they felt he was due. Whatever his parents' motives were, the end result was somewhat of a loss of Sammy's independence. Given the circumstances surrounding the rest of the story, it is not unreasonable to assume that Sammy had felt somewhat dependent upon his parents and did not like that dependence at all. But he had never faced the right circumstance that may have...

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