John Updike is an admired and creative writer who had enormous readers for him. He used the upper-middle-class uptown life in England with marriage and relations as the central theme. He faced severe criticism for the use of sex and marriage as the theme of his work. The ‘Couples ‘and A&P are the most crucial criticized ones for the use of adultery and sexuality. A &P is a story in which Updike tore into pieces the immature mind of a teenager named Sammy and his thoughts and observations. A&P can be considered as a psychological analysis of the behavior of Sammy and the actions resulting from the unripe speculations. Sammy is a juvenile teen who progresses with his emotions collapses in his judgment and deeds. The story is an attempt to pencil in the then society and its changing attitudes. Updike consciously set the characters to types who can act beyond the conventions.
Sammy the teenager and the protagonist of the story is a close observer and factual. The girl Queenie as named by Sammy is followed by two girls among them Queenie gets the attention of the Sammy. She is pretty, confident and brave. The youthful Sammy watches closely, the girls who move here and there in their bathing suits. He could explain vividly the external appearance of the three, “first was in the placid green two pieces ….she was a chunky kid …” etc shows his immaturity. The actions and movements of these girls stir the mind of Sammy. Sammy notices” She held her heads so high her neck coming out of those white shoulders”(Updike 734). He guesses about their own personalities. They create their own world inside and they get the attention of all. Sammy has joked at the way in which he looks at the girls; by Stokesie who is working with his at A&P. Updike slowly delineates the inner feelings of the teenager. Sammy also wants to be brave enough to break the societal conventions. The swirl in him was the outcome of the realization that he also wishes to become one like the girl. The way in which he describes the young girls shows his childishness.’ the one in the plaid green two-piece.’, sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it “ etc. Thus Updike uses Sammy’s’ ‘unromantic descriptive powers ‘to expose his boyish nature. (Uphaus 373).
The actions and expressions of the girls in the swimming suits arouse in the undeveloped mind of Sammy, a strong feeling of likeliness to be one among them, to get the attention of them and a sensation to support them. The insecurity and inferiority in working in such a low place were always hounding him even in the presence of those girls. He himself thinks that the place is not suitable for a person like him. So he takes the side of the girls when they are harassed for coming to the store in a bathing dress. Sammy is able to recognize the difference between the ‘regulars ‘coming to store and engaging in the same actions of going around with their lists and the girls. It seems to be something refreshing to all the members of the store. The path they go and the move that they make inside the store etc match with Sammy’s internal wishes.
When Lingel embarrassed the girls, Sammy supports them and when they leave he also says “I quit” showing his apron. The growth from an adolescent to a man who is able to take a decision of his own is evident from his thought pattern. Nathan Hatcher says “ Had he taken the time think over his actions before he carried out, he would have seen how foolish he was being and would not have gone through with them “(38).
Sammy quit his job because he also wanted to be a person like that of the girls. He may not wish to get one, but the fascinating way in which they move, the freedom they enjoy due to breaking the customs of the society. As he expects the quitting does not make an effect in them. But Lingel knows that his parents will be sad in his choice. But he reached that level to be firm in his determination. Sammy daunted no one but made his life harder than ever.
1. Uphaus, Suzanne Henning. Short Story Criticism. Vol. 13: Gale Research Inc., 1991
2. Hatcher, Nathan. Sammy’s Motive “Ode to Friendship& Other Essays Ed. Connie Bellamy. Norfolk, Virginia
3. Updike, John “A&P” The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Harper Collins 1996.