Short Stories A&P by John Updike

Plot summary

The story is a first person narration kind of a story. The main character, Sammy, is a young boy of nineteen years. He had just completed his high school education and was therefore waiting to join the university. Meanwhile, Sammy secured a job at a grocery store in a neighboring town. In the course of working, he realized the presence of three ladies dressed in what he referred to as ‘bathing suits’ shopping in his place of work. He was attracted to them due to his age (Updike, 6). The manager of this grocery always spent his time in his small office. It later happened that the Lengel, the manager, got out of his office and noted how the ladies were dressed. He was not impressed by that kind of dressing and therefore decided to warn the girls about their mode of dressing (Updike, 9). According to Lengel, It was inappropriate and they should dress decently when they were to come to that store. Sammy was not happy with the way his boss treated the customers and he therefore came to defend them hoping that they could hear. However, the girls did not hear and this annoyed Sammy forcing him to resign. Lengel pleaded with the young boy not to quit but he simply dropped his apron and left (Updike, 12). This annoyed Lengel since he was his parents’ friend and they were not economically good. At the end of the story, Sammy realized that his decision to quit the job was not good.

Setting

The story is set in a town that was close to a beach. In this town, women dressed in light dresses because of the hot temperature (Updike, 7). The events in this story occurred in a grocery whose name was A & P. Many people always visited this grocery for the shopping.

Characters

Sammy

The story employed first person style of narration until lately the narrator’s name is known to be Sammy. The nineteen year old boy was the main character of the story. Sammy was portrayed by the author as someone who was caring by the way he minded the kind of relationship an employee should have with the customers. The author portrayed Sammy as a young boy in the adolescent stage by the way he behaved when he saw the arrival of the three ladies (Updike, 7). According to Updike (2), Sammy on realizing that the first lady had seen him said “she was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs”. This implied that Sammy was impressed by this lady and could not be able to concentrate with his work as an adolescent would do.

Lengel

Lengel was the manager of the A & P stores. His office was just within the store and it had a big name written on the door as ‘MANAGER’ (Updike, 8). Lengel spent most of his time in this office although he used to come out for some times. During one of the incidence, he came out and came across the three ladies dressed in bathing suits. The author portrayed this character as someone who respected his job by the way he reacted on seeing how the ladies were dressed. Updike (12) notes that “he comes over and says, Girls, this isn’t the beach.” Lengel was not impressed at all by the way the ladies were dressed and therefore felt that there was no need for not warning them. Additionally, Lengel was not afraid of losing some of his customers by what he told them. According to Updike (13), Lengel told the ladies that “we want you decently dressed when you come in here”. The author also portrayed this character as a caring person by the way he pleaded with Sammy not to quit that job. This was because, he was more interested with what Sammy’s parents would say about it (Updike, 11).

Queenie

This was the name that Sammy gave to the girl who was leading the other two girls in the grocery. From the first instance, Sammy got attracted to this lady although he had never seen her before. This is true by the way the author portrayed how Sammy described that lady. According to Updike (7) the narrator said that “the bathing suit were off her shoulders looped loose around the cool tops of her arms, and I guess as a result the suit had slipped a little on her, so all around the top of the cloth there was this shining rim”. Finally, Sammy continued to express his interest in Queenie when Lengel decide to warn the girls about their dresses. Sammy tried to defend the girls but Queencie could not even notice Sammy’s gesture (Updike, 13).

The other characters in the story were Plaid and Big Tall Goony. These were the names that Sammy gave to the other two friends of Queencie. Stokesie was also a character who did not take a major role in the story. He was aged twenty two years and he also worked at A & P with Sammy.

Theme

The author used the theme of choice and the related consequences. In the story, it seemed that the main character acted as if he was not able to control himself. Even if Sammy was young, since he had just completed his secondary school education, he should not have quite the job. According to the author, Sammy’s parents were not in a good economic position to help the young boy earn a living before proceeding with his studies. It was this same factor that Lengel tried to convince Sammy about and that his parents would be annoyed by his decision. Updike (20) notes the kind of disappointments that encountered Sammy after leaving the job and going back to his home, he said, “I look around for my girls, but they’re gone, of course”. By such an example, the author portrayed the major theme for readers to learn that in every decision made, one should take the consequences into account.

Point of view

This story was about the biological changes that occur in someone’s life. The main character was only nineteen years when he stared working at A & P. This implied that, he was just about to end his adolescent stage which is a biological stage in life. During this stage, one’s activities are mainly controlled by hormones. This was evident in that, after the Sammy turned into adulthood, he regretted his actions since resigning was not the best solution for his case. It was because of his unreasonable decision that resulted to the main character to regret when he was at home. According to Updike (26) “there wasn’t anybody but some young married screaming with her children about some candy they didn’t get by the door of a powder-blue Falcon station wagon”.

Work Cited

Updike, John. A&P: Lust in the Aisles. London: Redpath Press, 1961.