The Motif of Play in A & P
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 fond of calling the grocery shoppers "sheep" because they are either bunching up together when they are confronted with a scene they do not understand or following one after the other up and down the aisles. In another example, Sammy calls a customer buying four giant cans of pineapple juice "an old party in baggy gray pants" and a bum (p.35). On another occasion, he refers to customers as "scared pigs in a chute" (p.36) after they become flustered at being in his check-out line when he suddenly quits his job in front of them. The generation gap is quite apparent in all of these passages, at least on Sammy's part.
We see a good example of Sammy's immature machismo after he watches the three girls walk barefoot through the store in their bathing suits. He states, "You never know for sure how girls' minds work (do you really think it's a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?)" (p.33). His appreciation for the female anatomy on a more common level is evidenced by his comment regarding Plaid's derriere that he calls a "sweet broad soft-looking can" (p.33).
Sammy does have some good points in relation to his fertile imagination. Since he has a tendency to see life as a...