Revelation is a term of multiple interpretations according to the context within which it is used. As far as literary readings are concerned, revelation is a situation drawing readers’ attention and appealing greatly to them, since it is this moment of a story’s plot when tension reaches its peak. It is the moment when the readers witness a truth that had been underlying the lines up to then, having only prepared them for an ‘apocalypses’ through indirect hints, thus leading them to experience in a way the feeling of sharing the hero’s ‘catharsis’. Following Marcus Tullio Cicero’s words that books are to a room what the soul is to a person’s body, I would say that stories - whose thematic core is the route of their hero towards his / her effort to define his real ‘ego’, his true identity through all the passions, faults, mistakes and choices - are the mirror reflecting each individual’s personal effort to define himself and become familiar with who he / she really is.
The magic lying in someone proving to be someone else than who you first thought he / she was, lies in the power of life to bring out to light our true wishes, dreams, thoughts and beliefs despite any potential difficulties in making them come true. When the reader turns the last page having witnessed his hero’s revelation, one thing is for sure. Inspiration has derived from his reading which definitely generates optimism and courage. Every reader starts flirting with the idea of daring to stand for what he believes regardless of any existing limitations or personal fears.
The purpose of this essay is to present you with the revelation of the hero I witnessed while reading the story ‘A & P’ by John Updike. Written in 1961, the story approaches the sociocultural background of the time in terms of the pressure imposed on people, especially those of a young age, to act and lead their lives accordingly to the status-quo of the time. Sammy, the main hero of the story is a teenage clerk in an ‘A & P’ grocery, appearing at first sight to be completely compromised with his conventional lifestyle. But at the end of the story Sammy has experienced his renewal which takes away all the curtains and sheds light to his imprisoned real self. The presentation of his renewal follows three stages, the description of Sammy’s character before his change, the incident causing the change and finally the description of Sammy’s portrait after his change has taken place.
1. Nature of Sammy’s character prior to his revelation
The story opens at first person narration describing the entrance of three young girls into the store. ‘In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits. I’m in the third check-out slot, with my back to the door’. So the person narrating is working at the cash register. And his routine is rocked by the entrance of these three girls. It is made clear that their appearance has nothing in common with the expected appearance of the store’s customers. This striking difference draws the narrator’s attention making him to ringing twice a box of HiHo crackers while serving a customer at the cash register ‘I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not. I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell.’ The reader suspects that the narrator is a young boy since he gets attracted to the young girls, used at being yelled at, since no objection is risen on his behalf towards the complaints of the customer at his cashier. As plot goes on, it is made clear that the visit of the girls has enlightened his dull working routine. He starts appraising them sexually, giving the name ‘Queenie’ to the leader of the three girls, imagining things about their habits and characters. His evident romantic nature is easily perceived by the reader as a trait of his personality. So Sammy whose name has not been acknowledged yet, is a young, sensitive, romantic boy at a young age, giving the impression of feeling trapped and unhappy in a conventional, routine job. But despite his tendency to being attracted to the unconventional, different stimulation, he seems to have accepted his own ‘fate’. He admires secretly the girls but he remains there, stuck in his cash register, without talking to them but only with the power of his mind.
2. The incident
Sammy’s thoughts and visions are suddenly stopped. It is the voice and remarks of his boss, Mr. Lengel which brings him back to reality. Mr. Lengel feels that the girls are not properly dressed for his store and shows his intense irritation, telling them that they must have their shoulders covered next time. A single remark, not at all offensive for Sammy who had experienced all the yelling just some minutes ago by the annoyed customer. Yet this plain remark is what makes Sammy’s locked innate door to open. He feels that the manager should not have offended the girls that way. Sammy turns without really realizing it to the protector of these girls against being offended or feeling uncomfortably. He is tremendously offended and he cannot tolerate it. This is the peak of the story’s plot. Sammy stands up, takes off his store prone and bow tie and resigns. The manager tries to bring him back to his senses reminding him the effect of such an action on his parents. ‘"Sammy, you don't want to do this to your Mom and Dad," he tells me. It's true, I don't. But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it.’ So the change is taking place. Sammy is not the calm, hesitant boy anymore. Sammy is the person finding the strength to show his opposition to and rejection of his manager’s behavior. The blush of Queenie when she was reprimanded by the manager for her appearance and her reassuring answer that they have dignity, was the key to unlock Sammy’s oppressed rejection of his manager’s attitude towards life in general. Too stuck onto the conventions of the appropriate or not appearance, the manager is definitely not what Sammy wants to become. Sammy wants to keep on imagining and visioning things. He never wants to miss his romance and admiration for anything new in case it attracts him. And he definitely doesn’t want to treat people with disregard or lack of respect concerning their freedom in their choices. Everyone is entitled to his / her own attitude and beliefs towards life. So, Sammy quits and leaves.
3. Sammy’s character after the change
Sammy goes out to the light, leaving the ‘darkness’ of his working place, looking without having realized it for an appraisal on behalf from the girls. But the girls have gone and he is there standing out in the street all by himself. His gesture is completed and now, what? Now, it is the time of Sammy’s real change. Sammy becomes familiar with his real self. He does feel some disappointment because he had imagined the girls would have behaved differently. But this disappointment gets away at no time when he realizes that he finally is free. He is free and courageous to draw his own path. He may never go shopping wearing a swimming suit like the girls but he certainly is to live his life the way he wishes. Whatever he does, whatever he experiences, he is to be the one responsible for it. No room for impositions or conventions exists any more. This is the renewed Sammy. He wants to dare to be the leader of his life. His emotional bonds, his worries about how others will perceive his actions are not reasons for allowing himself living in imprisonment. His stomach ‘kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me’ but this challenge was the difference he would make in his own life.
John Updike provides us with a highly interesting revelation. Sammy finds the personal courage to show his contempt to the conventionalism of his working place and at the same time realize within minutes that his personal rebellion / change holds its own power and significance, regardless of how others perceive or see it. The boy suddenly grows into a mature man, realizing that it is what you want and believe that should lead your life and not what others should, according to your wishes, believe.
A & P, John Updike, 1961