The Turning Point in John Updike's A & P
John Updike's short story "A & P" reveals nineteen-year old Sammy, the central character, as a complex person. Although Sammy appears, on the surface, as carefree and driven by male hormones, he has a lengthy agenda to settle. Through depersonalization, Sammy reveals his ideas about sexuality, social class, stereotypes, responsibility, and authority. Updike's technique, his motif, is repeated again and again through the active teenage mind of the narrator Sammy.
Sammy is, like most young men, object-minded. The object of his mind is the female body. Although his upbringing and the fact that he is at work do not allow him to voice his admiration for the girls in bikinis at the A & P, he lets the reader know, in no uncertain terms, what he is thinking. He gives each girl a name--Plaid, Big Tall Goony Goony, and Queenie--based on his evaluation of their physical body parts. The game is one that teenagers play the world over, with countless hours spent seeing and being seen. The primary object to view, in Sammy's eyes, is the queen. He describes how "she must have felt in the corner of her eye me and over my shoulder Stokesie in the second slot watching, but she didn't tip. Not this queen" (28). Sammy goes on to tell how "she [...] turned so slow it made [his] stomach rub the inside of [his] apron" (28). The irony of the setting is that the girls, dressed in nothing but swimsuits, have turned the neighborhood grocery store into a human meat market, with themselves as the commodity of choice for the male consumer.
In Sammy's mind's eye, the queen was of such regal bearing that she commanded his worship. He envisioned his well-bred idol as being of a higher social class than his own. The sound of her voice captivated him, as if in a dream. "All of a sudden [he] slid right down her voice into her living room" (29), into the middle of an upper-class cocktail party. Queenie's selection of fancy herring snacks had become her status symbol. Sammy contrasted the queen's social circle with his own family's, where guests were served lemonade and cheap beer "in tall glasses with 'They'll Do It Every Time' cartoons stencilled [sic] on" (29). The perceived class difference was perhaps not all bad, however. It could be seen as a buffer in a situation such as Sammy's. If the object of his affection did not return his attention, Sammy was still free to admire and desire her from a distance, with little threat to his own ego.
Sammy's typical teenage focus on youthful good looks measured all women against the youth-culture standard, an impossible standard for all but those in their prime. Sammy could not see his customers as the reason for his employment. He certainly did not see their humanity, or their value as mothers and wives. He brought new creativity to stereotypes, seeing his customers as "houseslaves in pin curlers" (28) or "young [marrieds] screaming with [their] children" (30). His youth, along with...