A&P by John Updike Summary

The narration of A&P is told by the point of view of 19-year-old Sammy. Like other books such as Catcher in the Rye, the narrator seems inexperienced and unreliable. Sammy has some kind of limited perspective about life, whining and complaining about the stupidity in his community and their conformity. The simple dialogue aids readers into imagining easily the surroundings and situations described. The text is full of metaphors, analogies, and similes. The characters are Sammy, who is the narrator. He is working at the check out point in the A&P store. One day three girls come to the store. They are only clad in their bathing suits. The store manager reprimands them. Sammy trying to impress the girls, quits his job on the spot. Queenie is one of the girls. She is called like that by Sammy, because she is the most attractive of them all and evidently the leader of the group. The manager of the store is Lengel. He is also a Sunday School teacher. For Sammy Lengel an uptight prisoner of the conformist, however, he is also an authority.

The genre of the story is Sammys coming of age. What really defines his position is when he quits his job in order to defend the girls’ right to wear bathing suits in the superstore. He believes he is a true hero. In fact, he stands against morality, human dignity, and decency. However, towards the end of the story, he re-evaluates the situation and is scared that this might give him a bad reputation. The story is also set in modern-day America. It may as well be a true story. This can happen to any 19-year-old boy.
One of the major themes in A&P is the power of desire. It is clear how overwhelming sexuality can be when the three girls enter the store and they attract the staring eyes of all the men. A very powerful symbol is that of the herring snacks. Queenie explains that she went to the store to by them for her mother. Sammy envisages the kind of sophisticated party, filled with classy, complicated people who are consuming such herring snacks.

The setting of the story is in a grocery store. We can get a feeling that the A&P might be part of a larger chain and that it might as well be the pioneer in the industry. Sammy refers to the management and the customers as “sheep”, which confirms his conformist views about the people around him. The girls are described as “followers”. For the narrator, the sheep are clearly the flock which simply followers orders and doing whatever everyone else does, without putting too much thought into it.
Updike is well-knowns for being a deeply socially involved writer. He has tackles issues and controversial topics such as domestic abuse, alcoholism, and religion. In A&P, the problem Updike addresses are conformity and what it is like to come of age in modern America. There is light humor throughout the storyline, however, there is also a dark hue. The story ends with a sense of darkness and isolation.

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