Symbolism in John Updike's "A & P"

Essay by digitaldivaUniversity, Bachelor's March 2003

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John Updike's short story "A & P" recounts how an adolescent supermarket cashier named Sammy has his life changed forever when three girls in bathing suits shop in the store where he works. He is the first person narrator who shapes the tale with his descriptions, attitudes and opinions. He is the protagonist who grows up quickly in a single day and the only round, fully developed character in the tale. As you proceed through the story and become acquainted with Sammy's opinions and ideas, it becomes obvious that Sammy has made the only choice that affords the possibility of real joy and fulfillment in his future. He is ready for a change.

Sammy's life revolves around his job at a local A & P supermarket in a small Massachusetts town north of Boston. The store is located "right in the middle of town" (99) and near "two banks and the Congregational church" (99).

Although the town is only "five miles from the beach" (99), "there's people in this town haven't seen the ocean for twenty years" (99). The beach is for tourists and wealthy visitors, not the townsfolk. We see a very conservative community, investing their money for the future and preparing for the next life, but not living or enjoying this one to any extent.

The store is typical of a post-war A & P with its fluorescent lights, "checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor" (98) and "all those stacked packages" (98). It's a little shabby, selling "records at discount...gunk you wonder they waste the wax on... and plastic toys done up in cellophane that fall apart when a kid looks at them" (99). There are seven "slots" for the cashiers to work in and Sammy has to wear a uniform at work, a bow tie and apron,