Affirmation of Adulthood in Updike’s A&P
Researching John Updike’s story, "A&P", I found many readers agreed that the main character Sammy is viewed as a hero or martyr for quitting his job at an A&P store in a northern beach town. I did, however, find that critics disagreed on why Sammy quit. Initially it appears that Sammy quits his job to impress girls who were reprimanded for wearing bathing suits in the A&P. Sammy did not ultimately quit his job to be the hero for three girls who happened to walk into this A&P. This is not just a story about a nineteen-year-old guy trying to impress a group of girls by quitting his job, but it is also a story describing in detail the day this nineteen-year-old realizes that sometimes, in the transition from boyhood to adulthood, one must take a stand and ultimately follow through with this affirmation of adulthood.
From the beginning of the story Updike "uses Sammy’s youth and unromantic descriptive powers" to show his immaturity and apparent boyish nature (Uphaus 373). We see this in the opening line of the story: "In walks three girls in nothing but bathing suits" (Updike 1026). Even the voice of Sammy is very "familiar and colloquial" (Uphaus 373). Much of the information that Sammy relays about the three girls is sexually descriptive in a nineteen-year-old boy’s way: "and a sweet broad looking can [rear] with those two crescents of white under it, where the sun never seems to hit" (Updike 1026). It is apparent that Sammy looks at the three girls who happen to walk into the A&P only as objects of lust or possibly boyish desire. Thus, on the surface it is easy to take this story as that of a boy who would do something like quit his job to "impress" these girls. It is even possible that most readers wouldn’t even question the immaturity of a lusting teen age boy leaving his job for the possibility of "wooing" the girls.
However, at a closer look Updike suggests that possibly Sammy is in a transition from boyhood to adulthood. In one respect he is a boy wearing his "white shirt that his mother ironed the night before" (Updike 1029). And it is even possible that Sammy is working for his parents rather than himself. When Sammy’s boss Lengel tells him, "Sammy you don’t want to do this to your Mom and Dad" (Updike 1029), I feel Updike is suggesting that Sammy is working to please his parents.
But Sammy is not completely a brash teenage boy. He knows that he is young but entering into the realm of adult responsibilities; thus, Sammy is in a transition from a teen to an adult. Sammy equates himself with his co-worker Stokesie who is an adult. Even though "Stokesie’s married, with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already" (Updike 1027), Sammy sees Stokesie and himself equal, with Stokesie’s family life as "the only difference" (Updike 1027). Sammy also seems to be pretty worldly for working in an A&P. Sammy hints on life existing beyond the A&P. He even makes this...