Critical Analysis of "A&P" Short Story by John

Essay add: 21-04-2016, 16:42   /   Views: 254
Critical Analysis of "A&P" Short Story by John Updike

“Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark and gray and his back stiff, as if he’d just received an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.”(Updike737)

An epiphany is an instance of sudden truth brought about by a mundane event. In the John Updike classic “A&P,”the main character, Sammy, experiences just that. First published in the July 22, 1961 issue of The New Yorker, the reader can’t help but wonder if the story was written to reflect the radical changes that were taking place in society during this period. Updike uses a unique setting and a variety of characters to help the reader understand that Sammy’s act was not that of a hormone driven 19 year old, but actually the decision of a man who refuses to become a “sheep.”

The title setting was perfect to symbolize the structure that lies within the society that surrounds Sammy. It is designed the guide people in one direction, and it doesn’t require much thought. The “sheep” go up and down the aisles, pushing their carts and checking off their lists. The flourescent lights provide a false sense of sunlight in an otherwise dreary setting. The only disruption in the flow of traffic is the sight of “Queenie” and her two followers.

“The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle-the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one-way signs or anything)-were pretty hilarious. You could see them, when Queenie’s white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back in their own baskets and on they pushed.”(Updike 734)

The first characters to be mentioned in the story are actually the main focus of Sammy’s attention throughout. “In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits.”(Updike 733) Many would simply dismiss this story as nothing but a romantic dream, but actually these girls represent much more than a mere sex symbol. While Sammy does take intrest in the aesthetic qualities they possess, he seems to notice more the way they carry themselves and the reactions of those around them. “She held her head so high her neck, coming up out of those white shoulders...”(Updike 734) They embody that wild side of life. They confidently walk into a grocery store on an otherwise normal day and change this young man’s life. He sees something that he never knew he longed for, a life outside of this “A&P” world.

On the other end of that spectrum the reader finds Lengel, Sammy’s manager. “Lengel’s pretty dreary, teaches Sunday school and the rest, but he doesn’t miss that much.”(Updike 732) He injects even more conformity into the story. He feels compelled to reprimand the girls and embarrass them in front of Sammy. In doing so, he makes Sammy realize that “Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency.”(Updike 736) It can be said that the act of quitting was delinquent on Sammy’s part but, it was more than a rash decision based on sexual feelings. Sammy realizes the consequences of his actions, but follows through knowing that “...once you start a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it.”(Updike 737) He knows that if he backs down now, he will continue to back down throughout his life.

Throughout the story the reader experiences brief encounters with the locals, or the “sheep” as Sammy likes to call them. Most would associate sheep with stupidity and weakness. Much like sheep are herded by their sheperds, these people are led blindly through life by the structure of their society. They never question the norms or values that were presented to them by their parents. Sammy even goes as far as to say, “I bet you could set off dynamite in the A&P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists...” These “sheep” represent the life that most had settled for in that time period. They are conformists that don’t have the courage to walk outside of the lines.

In being presented with these two very different worlds, Sammy is more importantly faced with a decision that he knows he’ll feel for the rest of his life. If he stays quiet, he’ll more than likely become just like the “sheep” that seem to disgust him so much. But, like many of the young people coming of age in the 60's Sammy chose to walk on the wild side. He chose to find out what lies beyond A&P. The girls were just the catalyst to cause the reaction. Standing up to his manager was not an act of chivalry, it was an act of independence.

“You know, it’s one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on the beach, where what with the glare nobody can look at each other much anyway, and another thing in the cool of the A&P, under the fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages, with her feet paddling along naked over our checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor.”(Updike 734)

Updike creatively intertwines the two elements of setting and characterization. Had the setting not been the grocery store would the girls have stood out? If he had never made mention of the “sheep” would the story have the same effect? All elements of this story were taken into careful consideration to help create a rather nonchalant piece that upon second reading may take on a whole new meaning. The reader might see that when Sammy unties his apron strings he is actually cutting the strings that link him to the structure of society.

Article name: Critical Analysis of "A&P" Short Story by John essay, research paper, dissertation