“A&P” (supermarket) is a short story written by the hardworking and highly productive John Updike and narrated in first person by a 19-year-old protagonist and cashier named Sammy. It was published in 1961 and is about Sammy’s change of character and coming of age. Updike uses the various shifts in tone, great attention to detail, and a great deal of symbolism to portray the significant change.
The opening sentence “ In walks three girls in nothing but bathing suits” (par.1) sets up the colloquial tone; it’s as if Sammy was talking to a friend. As the story goes on, the tone shifts from being informal to a little comical. He refers to the people in the checkout lane as “sheep” and “scared pigs in a chute.” However, by the end the tone shifts yet again and becomes heroic. The act of quitting a job (climax) in defiance of Lengel’s (manager and antagonist) unfair treatment of the girls is a strong ...view middle of the document...
The second girl, Big Tall Goony Goony (nickname), was described as the “tall one, with black hair that hadn’t frizzed right” (par.2). She was “the kind of girl that other girls think is ‘very striking’ and ‘attractive’” (par. 2). The third girl, known as “Queenie,”
leads the other two girls: “She had sort of an oaky hair that the sun and salt had bleached, done up in a bun that was unraveling, and a kind of prim face” (par. 4). She had a dirty pink bathing suite with straps that were “looped loose around the cool tops of her arms.” A detailed description of the girls’ appearance unmasks Sammy’s obsessions with them. This obsession caused Sammy to feel the need to take action, a coming of age experience.
Throughout the story, Updike uses symbolism to show Sammy’s perspective on the world around him. Sammy describes his surroundings as gray; everything was boring and depressing. The girls were described in color to show interest and admiration. From Sammy’s point of view, the bright bathing suits worn by the girls suggest excitement and originality, whereas the dingy attire of a typical A&P shopper characterizes her as a dispirited housewife. A metaphor used by Updike is the use of sheep to describe the shoppers. By nature, sheep are herd animals that enjoy the company of their kind. They are followers that have the same daily routine, just like everyone else at the store. During Sammy’s employment at A&P, his attire consisted of an apron and bow tie that identifies a follower of sorts (like the people he criticizes). After resigning, he leaves the store in the white shirt his “mother ironed the night before” (par. 30). Sammy starts realizing how much harder the world is going to be, because no matter where he goes, he is very likely to end up with people much like Lengel. It’s all part of the coming of age experience.
The use of symbolism, tone, and detail by John Updike depicts a character change in Sammy. He can’t tolerate a life full of policies and unfair treatment, but he knows the world is full of it and recognizes the difficulties that lie ahead of him. He “felt how hard the world was going to be” for him thereafter (par. 31).