Jennifer R. Bernard
Professor Christina Bisirri
08 October 2017
Central Conflict: “A&P”
Young people are often imbued with a desire for change that leads to the eventual push back against conventional norms. John Updike’s short story, “A&P” is the perfect example of this precise scenario. The story focuses on the protagonist, Sammy, a nineteen-year-old who works as a clerk at the grocery store. As the story unfolds, it is evident that the young man is slowly realizing that he is moving into adulthood. As such, the central conflict revolves around Sammy’s coming of age, as he tries to support the three girls who are scantily dressed in bathing suits when they are in the A&P grocery store. Sammy’s coming of age is demonstrated by three key items, through his boredom and dissatisfaction with his job, his yearning for change, and his resistance to the conventions of the older generation.
Sammy’s coming of age awakens through his evident boredom at the A&P. This dullness assists in fostering dissatisfaction with his job and life in general. In my experience, boredom at work can foster a strong desire to resign. It’s a slow day at the grocery store as he describes, “The store’s pretty empty, it being Thursday afternoon, so there was nothing much to do except lean on the register” (Updike 165) evidencing that he has all the time in the world to speculate about the store’s patrons and watch the girls as they meander through the store. Sammy also signifies his boredom while making noises and finding amusement as he rings up Queenie’s purchase. He mockingly enthuses, “Hello (bing) there, you (gung) hap-py pee-pul (plat)” (Updike 167)! Sammy illustrates in that one phrase the monotony of this simple every day task. Sammy’s dissatisfaction with his job and life in general is evident when Queenie’s presence invokes a fantasy of what her life at home must be like compared to his own. He feels trapped in his job due to a lack of alternatives as well as the obligation to his parents. His lethargic and sarcastic behavior when describing the patrons, embodies a worn-out employee that is beginning to sense that they want so much more from life.
Sammy’s encounter with the three young girls brings his need for change to the forefront. Queenie and the other scantily clad girls saunter up and down the aisles as if deliberately flaunting that they do not conform to the conventional culture of the town and epitomizing the idea that when everyone dresses and behaves the same, there is no resulting progress. Their confidence and privilege awakens a desire in Sammy for the same. Contrary to the people shopping at the store, the girls were clearly different as he describes...