February 7, 2018
In the short story “A&P”, written by John Updike, theme is shown throughout the entire story. The theme of growing up, judging off of appearances, individualism, and social class are all presented in this short story.
The theme of growing up is the main theme in this short story. Sammy is nineteen years old and is in the space in life where he is not a kid anymore and not quite an adult. Legally, yes, he is an adult but he still answers to his parents. His manager, Lengel, brings up his parents as Sammy decides to quit, “Sammy, you don’t want to do this to your Mom and Dad”(Updike 165). As Sammy comes closer to becoming an adult, he has to deal with the outcomes of his actions head-on. Sammy is a couple years older than the girls who walk into A&P. He is similar to the girls because of their young age, but unlike the girls, Sammy can not use his parents to excuse his actions like the girls do when Lengel confronts them. Queenie used her parents by saying they had sent her to the store to buy some “herring snacks”(Updike 163). Sammy will just have to face his parents’ being upset with him and find another source of making money after he quits, Sammy’s decision of telling Lengel he quits is an act of youth, but he is not young like the girls, and he have to deal with his consequences like an adult.
The theme of judging off appearances is present everywhere in in this short story. Sammy is just a cashier at A&P and sees hundreds of people every day. He envisions in his head what he thinks their lives are like. Like the old woman who came through his line and got upset with him for scanning an item twice on accident. “She’s one of these cash-register-watchers, a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I know it made her day to trip me up”(Updike 160). Sammy also judges the three girls as he follows them through the store with his eyes. And as Sammy rings up Queenie’s herring snacks, he imagines what her home life is like, he thinks that she is a wealthy upper-class citizen. “Her father and the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olive and sprigs of mint in them” (Updike 163).
The theme of individualism is shown when the three girls walk into A;P wearing just their bathing suits. The girls draw attention from everyone in the store who are compared to “sheep” by Sammy. He compares everyone else in the store to sheep because they are all boring, do not stand out, and do not want to refrain from their normal routine. “I bet you could set off dynamite in an A&P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists and muttering ‘Let me see, there was a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce” (Updike 162). When the girls go to checkout and Lengel embarrasses them, Sammy realised that he does not want to be apart of the normal “sheep” and he wants to be individualised, so he quits his job. He sees that it is okay to stray from the “norm” in society.
The girls in their bathing suits flaunt their wealth, as they’ve obviously been lounging by the pool or beach while the people in the store have been working. As Queenie speaks, Sammy envisions the type of background she might come from, coming into A&P to buy fancy herring snacks for her parents. Sammy’s defense of the girls also involves a hope of impressing them, but they shuffle out of the store without taking any notice of his sacrifice on their behalf. He is from a lower class and is beneath them, which adds another element to the foreboding feeling he has about his future. Looking back at Lengel’s weariness, he realizes that he, like Lengel, is stuck in the working class. While the girls’ class protects them from the consequences of their actions—Queenie draws from a reserve of superiority when she remembers her place in the confrontation with Lengel—Sammy has to face the consequences of his actions without any protection of wealth or class.