Updike, John. “A&P.” 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology,
Third Edition. Ed. Beverly Lawn. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009.
Summary of Work
Sammy is a nineteen year old boy working his cashier shift at the A&P when three girls in bikini bathing suits walk into the store. One is a bit overweight, the other is pretty but just not quite the prettiest, and one he dubs the Queen of the group. They are barefoot and walking down all the aisles one by one as if they are looking for something. He watches her and so does the other cashier in the line. And they watch them go to the meat counter and ask for something. They come back with a can of pickled herring with sour cream. When they come to the register they go to Sammy’s line. He is struggling to remember how to ring up the can because of how they catch him off guard, and he thinks of why they might be there given that the beach is five miles away from there and they are in North Boston. Right as he is about to ring them up the manager sees them and comes to the register to tell them that it’s not a beach, and that the next time they come in they need to dress appropriately. They say that they are dressed appropriately and they didn’t come to shop but just to grab what the Queen’s mother asked them to grab. The manager still insists that they need to come dressed appropriately, and they take their item and leave. Sammy says, “I quit,” and then he goes to take his bow tie off and his apron off. The manager tells him that he doesn’t want to do that, and to think of his parents. Sammy realizes that he doesn’t, but doesn’t see the point of not finishing the gesture once he’s started it. He tells the manager that he doesn’t think he needed to humiliate those girls like that, and the manager insists that they are the ones that humiliated the people in the store. And so Sammy walks out, expecting to see the girls but realizing how silly that expectation was, and now worries about how this will affect him in the future.
Brief Note on Themes
This story is a form of Bildungsroman and about an American boy making silly mistakes based on his hormones. What does it say about American identity? Female identity and appropriateness? Male identity and hormonal reactions toward scantily clad women? Self control versus animal instinct? Even the married young man has a visceral reaction to their bodies as he sees them. And older people versus younger people’s values and morals?