A&P, written by John Updike

“A&P” is a short story written by John Updike. It tells the story of a young man named Sammy who works in a grocery store called A&P. One day, three girls come into the store wearing nothing but bathing suits. Sammy is intrigued by them and ends up quitting his job to follow them.

The story is an initiation story, which means that it is about Sammy’s journey from innocence to experience. He starts out as a naïve young man who doesn’t really understand women. But after following the girls and seeing them get harassed by an older man, he begins to see things differently. He realizes that women are not objects to be ogled, but human beings with feelings and needs. This experience changes him forever.

The protagonist, Sammy, is a clerk at the A&P. He is hired by Lengel to cover for him while he visits his wife and children on Christmas day. He quits when Lengel humiliates the females for their clothing. As a result, Sammy leaves his job at the A&P.

This short story contains elements of an initiation story because to its use of characterization and plot. Sammy, the slot checker at the “A&P,” evolved throughout the narrative. At first, he was simply a cashier who used his idol time to critique passing customers. His work was beneath his abilities; therefore this was all he could do to keep himself occupied.

Sammy was content with his job, or so he thought. When the girls come into the store wearing their swimsuits, Sammy is brought back to reality. He is no longer in his own world, but rather in the real world where people are not perfect and judgment does exist. Lengel, the manager of A&P, represents this judgment. He is the one who pulls Sammy out of his own world and makes him face the reality of what is happening. Lengel embarrassed the girls for their attire and so Sammy quit his job in protest.

This short story is an example of an initiation story because Sammy had to go through a transformation in order to understand what is truly happening around him. He could no longer reside in his own bubble, but instead had to venture out and face the real world. This was a turning point for Sammy because he realized that life is not always fair and that people will be judged no matter what.

The narrator, Sammy, makes his thoughts on the job clear: “I’m in a better position to serve her now because slots three through seven are unmanned and I could see her wondering between Stokes and me, but Stokesie with his usual luck draws an old party in baggy pants who stumbles up with four big cans of pineapple juice (what do these bums do with all that pineapple juice? I’ve often thought to myself).” It is also shown when Sammy states, “Slots three through seven are unmanned and I could see her wondering between Stokes and me.

A&P, written by John Updike is a story about an adolescent, Sammy, working at a grocery store and his struggle to rebel against authority. Sammy quits his job in the middle of his shift after Lengel, his boss, scolds a young girl for wearing nothing but a bathing suit in the store. This represents Sammy’s need to rebel against any type of authority figure, even if it means quitting his job.

Sammy feels that Lengel is being unfair to the girl and he does not want to work for someone who would treat someone so harshly. This event leads to Sammy’s initiation into adulthood as he realizes that he must take control of his own life and make his own decisions. This story is an excellent example of an initiation story, as it follows Sammy on his journey from adolescence to adulthood.

Sammy appears to despise his manager. When Sammy says, “Then everyone’s luck begins to run out,” Lengel comes in from haggling over a truckload of cabbages on the lot and is about to slip into that door marked “manager” behind which he hides all day when the girls touch his eye. Lengel isn’t too terrible, goes to Sunday school and the rest of it, but he doesn’t miss much. (489) When the girls were embarrassed by Lengel, though, Sammy’s personality changed.

Sammy becomes heroic and defends the girls by quitting his job. Updike uses Sammy as an everyman to describe the changes that occur during the initiation process. When Sammy is at work, he is just a small part of the A&P grocery store. However, when he stands up to Lengel, Sammy becomes larger than life. Updike uses this story to show how individuals can change during moments of crisis.

At first, Sammy behaved in this manner to impress the females so that he might be “quick enough for them to hear” because he wanted to be “their unexpected hero.” (490) When they left, he stopped his job. However, because “remembering how I made the beautiful girl blush makes me feel scrunchy inside,” he continues quitting his work. This passage demonstrates that he genuinely valued giving up his job not only for the purpose of impressing women but also because it gave him a sense of pride when those girls were embarrassed.

Sammy believed that he was doing the girls a service by quitting his job because A&P is “just a place” and the girls are “human beings” (491). Sammy wanted to be seen as different than other A&P cashiers because he did not want to become like Lengel who is “so funny about girls in bathing suits” (491).

Sammy thought of Lengel as being close-minded because he could not see how beautiful the girls were in their bathing suits. Sammy also felt that A&P was limiting him because it was just a place where people came in to buy groceries and then leave; there was no room for self-expression. Sammy wanted to be seen as an individual who was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in, even if it meant quitting his job.

In the end, Sammy realizes that he may have made a mistake in quitting his job because the girls did not seem to care about him after he had done so. He also realizes that he does not want to end up like his co-worker Stokesie who is “married and has two kids and drives a Ford” (492). Sammy does not want to be like Stokesie because he is bored with his life and feels like he has no control over it. Sammy wants to be seen as someone who is different and unique, someone who is willing to take risks.

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