A by John Updike – Short Essay

Write a critical commentary on John Updike’s “A & P” John Updike’s “A is written during the early 1960’s in America. The short story is written in a first person narrative of Sammy, who is a young employee at a store. The tone of the story is direct and sounds as if one were partaking in a conversation with Sammy himself. The story, thus, is more personal. The reader follows Sammy’s train of thought as he makes observations of events that happen that lead up to climax of him quitting his job. Sammy can be seen as one who does not stand out, he is lost amongst the masses.

He has an ordinary job, with ordinary co-workers at an ordinary store. This is how the middleclass, or working-class, is seen, especially during that time. When Sammy first sees the three girls that walk into the store with their bathing costumes on in the bread aisle, the reader notices how carefully Sammy watches them. He begins his descriptions of the first two girls and dismisses them for the lack of attraction. He then focuses, and seems to be transfixed, on the third girl whom he deems the leader and names her “Queenie”. One immediately notices that Sammy finds a certain freedom in her beauty.

The fact that she is barefoot and barely clothed defies the normal code of attire in a shop and so creates a freedom. One could say that he is interested in her for the fact that she does stand out, that she is not seen as ordinary, unlike him. In a sense, Sammy has a rather immature view of the world. When he hears that “Queenie” has been sent to the shop simply to buy a jar of herring snacks for her mother, Sammy immediately pictures a party of rich and sophisticated people. His idea of social statuses and class distinctions, could be said, are misguided.

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One could also say that Sammy is reaching for individuality, to not simply be an ordinary employee, but be able to become someone that stands out as easily as “Queenie”. Sammy grasps at the romantic idea of a hero and quits his job, yearning to join the girls. However, the girls walk out the store and Sammy is left to talk to Lengel who states that Sammy wouldn’t want to do this to his mom and dad. Sammy is determined to quit. He realises that quitting is a gesture made that has to be followed through.

As he stands outside the store, the romantic hero has died within him. The girls are gone and he realises the situation he has put himself in and the financial straits he has put his parents in. Updike has given the reader a glance into a situation that changed Sammy’s life for good. It emphasises how choices can change a person’s life and how at that stage can seem insignificant. Updike shows the reader how complex life decisions can be. Bibliography A by John Updike: The World’s Greatest Short Stories, edited by James Daley, Dover Publications

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