In John Updike’s “A&P” he tells the story of Sammy, a cashier at an A & P grocery store, and his actions when faced with a situation outside the norm. The story starts out describing what seems to be a normal monotonous day as a cashier at an A&P grocery store when the monotony is broken by three young women walking through the store in bathing suits. Updike uses the mundaneness of the grocery store setting to highlight the women’s actions and the store employees’ actions.
Throughout Updike’s account, he mentions details of the store that lend to the blandness of the setting. As the women move throughout the store he switches between the vivid excited description of the women and their attire and the items they are passing such as dog food and breakfast cereal (Updike, 141). This contrast highlights how out of place they seem.
Furthermore, Updike speaks of the location of the store to emphasize how beyond normal the situation is. “It’s not as if we’re on the Cape, we’re north of Boston and there’s people in this town haven’t seen the ocean for twenty years.” (Updike, 141).
Finally, the setting is used to contrast employees and their actions within the store. The manager, Lengel, fits the mold of the store both inside and out. His reaction to the women matches the description of the area as well as the tone and mood of the store. In contrast, Sammy’s decision to quit his job as a result of Lengel’s actions brings him over to the contrasting side of the three women.
Throughout, Updike succeeds in making the reader feel the mood of the store, one of boredom and normality. This makes the actions and interactions even more interesting. The discomfort of the conflict can be felt by the reader.
Updike, John. “A & P.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature, edited by Michael Meyer and D Quentin Miller, 12th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s 2020, pp. 140-144.
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