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Symbolism In John Updike's "A & P"

1450 words - 6 pages

John Updike's short story "A & P" recounts how an adolescent supermarket cashier named Sammy has his life changed forever when three girls in bathing suits shop in the store where he works. He is the first person narrator who shapes the tale with his descriptions, attitudes and opinions. He is the protagonist who grows up quickly in a single day and the only round, fully developed character in the tale. As you proceed through the story and become acquainted with Sammy's opinions and ideas, it becomes obvious that Sammy has made the only choice that affords the possibility of real joy and fulfillment in his future. He is ready for a change.Sammy's life revolves around his job at a local A & P supermarket in a small Massachusetts town north of Boston. The store is located "right in the middle of town" (99) and near "two banks and the Congregational church" (99). Although the town is only "five miles from the beach" (99), "there's people in this town haven't seen the ocean for twenty years" (99). The beach is for tourists and wealthy visitors, not the townsfolk. We see a very conservative community, investing their money for the future and preparing for the next life, but not living or enjoying this one to any extent.The store is typical of a post-war A & P with its fluorescent lights, "checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor" (98) and "all those stacked packages" (98). It's a little shabby, selling "records at discount...gunk you wonder they waste the wax on... and plastic toys done up in cellophane that fall apart when a kid looks at them" (99). There are seven "slots" for the cashiers to work in and Sammy has to wear a uniform at work, a bow tie and apron, as do the other workers. The aisles are organized, like the "cat-and-dog-food-breakfast-cereal-macaroni-rice-raisins-seasonings-spreads-spagehetti-soft-drinks-crackers-and-cookies" (98) aisle, items pigeon-holed, but apparently without any regard to an item's individual properties. The store's organization reflects the town's organization of its citizens, urging conformity and knowing your place in typical middle-class American style. The physical settings show us the spirit of the town and the mindset of its inhabitants.Lengel, the manager, is Sammy's boss and "has been a friend of his parents for years" (101). He looks "old and gray"(101) to Sammy and as manager, he spends his time arguing over deliveries and hiding all day in his office. Sammy thinks "Lengel's pretty dreary, teaches Sunday school and the rest" (100). His coworker, Stokesie, is twenty- two, only 3 years older than Sammy, but he's "married, with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already " (99) and his highest hope is to be manager himself someday. Life in Sammy's town and at his socio-economic level, doesn't look particularly promising or exciting. Lengel and Stokesie are typical citizens, adhering to the politics and accepted middle-class values of the town. never straying from what is expected of...

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