Summary and Analysis
The short story entitled A & P by John Updike narrates the apparently unconventional event of three teen-aged girls in swimsuits running an errand to pick up a grocery item from a grocery store. The literary discourse was narrated from the point of view of Sammy, a 19-year old teen-ager, who vividly described the evolving details. As the teen-aged girls flamboyantly displayed their bodies with only their swimsuits as covers, their actions were intently observed by other spectators and only the manager, finally had the courage to speak up and condemn the untoward behavior. The main points asserted from the story included the apparently indifferent stance manifested by the three teen-aged girls for deciding to flaunt their bodies in swimsuits in a totally unexpected place; the impulsive behavior which could be exhibited by adolescents as exemplified from the decision of Sammy to quit; the conformity of adults, as represented by the manager of A & P to assert adherence to proper conduct and behavior; and the action of Sammy was a form of resistance, not only to the manager, but to the apparent restriction in life.
The uncanny behavior has been exemplified by the three teen-aged girls who barraged into the A & P grocery store wearing only their swimsuits. Their behavior is considered unconventional, with the teen-aged ladies’ apparent wanton disregard for adverse reactions from other shoppers. As aptly described by the narrator, “our town is five miles from a beach, with a big summer colony out on the Point, but we're right in the middle of town, and the women generally put on a shirt or shorts or something before they get out of the car into the street” . The behavior of the three teen-aged girls seemed to exhibit their belonging to the upper class, as noted by who asserted that “the supposedly elite upper class is, in fact, very casual, too casual under the circumstances, for the snobbish middle-class manager” . This was corroborated by Stearns, Sandlin and Burdick, to wit: “Sammy’s assessment that the girls’ unconventional attire and behavior represent a threat to the established order of the market” (406). The teen-aged girls’ obvious detraction from middle-class behavior could likewise contribute to their nonconformity to tradition.
Concurrently, the impulsive behavior of Sammy is another trait stressed by the author to be manifested by adolescents. He was noted to say: “"I quit" to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they'll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero” . Likewise, Sammy’s action was interpreted by Stearns, Sandlin and Burdick as playing hero: “he depicts this act as not only his standing up to a petty and puritanical authority figure, but as a romantic and heroic act in the girls’ defense” (395). For someone who hardly knows these girls, Sammy have acted in a rushed and immature behavior for wanting to impress them into siding with their behavior. This was also validated by McFarland who affirmed that “Sammy, in fact, achieves a certain degree of heroism not so much by his gesture, which initially appears to be selfishly motivated rather than a defense of principle, but by his insistence upon going through with it even after the girls have left” (99). Evidently, Sammy, since in his teen-aged years was guilty of exhibiting an impulsive behavior without evaluating the future repercussions of his action.
Despite the adverse and diverse reactions of Sammy, his colleague Stokesie, and other people who were in the grocery as they observed and encountered the three teen-aged girls, it was only the manager who openly admonished their improper decorum. As emphasized, “the code of decorum keeps the store from being what it would pretend to be” . The manager’s simple statement that clearly sent the message: “Girls, this isn't the beach” was enough to put the teen-aged girls attention to the need to conform to traditional behavior was finally affirmed. This provides the all familiar reaction of people to only observe and watch while others apparently manifest unconventional conduct . With the manager’s open statements of the fact, all people were finally reminded the need to adhere to expressly designed policies and code of decorum that should be enforced at all times.
Finally, Sammy’s action in the end of the story, as he quit his job impulsively was perceived to be more than a resistance to the manager. As a teen-ager who could have been analyzed as working to please his parents, noted to be long-time friends of the manager, the action exhibited by Sammy served as a form of defiance to conforming to rules. This was validated by Stearns, Sandlin and Burdick who averred that “A&P provides a means of focusing audiences’ attention on their own interpretations of consumptive resistance, rather than merely on the intentions of those resisting” (411). Sammy’s actions, as still an adolescent affirmed the common traits which were emphasized herein: “He is commonly seen as “standing for” youth (naïve, but “right”), beauty, sensitivity, nonconformity, individualism, honesty and excitement” . It was therefore apt to conclude that in his immaturity, it was definitely expected that “my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter” . The lessons in life are sometimes realized through impulsive decisions, such as that which was made by Sammy, in his quest to impress and be a hero to three teen-aged girls he hardly knew.
McFarland, Ronald E. "Updike and the Critics: Reflections on A&P." Studies in Short Fiction (n.d.): 95-100. Print.
Stearns, Jennie E., Jennifer A. Sandlin and Jake Burdick. "Resistance on Aisle Three?: Exploring the Big Curriculum of Consumption and the (Im)Possibility of Resistance in John Updike’s “A&P”." Curriculum Inquiry (2011): 394-415. Print.
Updike, John. "A & P." Gardner, Janet E. Literature: A Portable Anthology. Third ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004. 294-299. Print.