A&P Themes and Symbols
Updike’s “A & P” is rich in symbolism and begins in the very first paragraph. Sammy is eyeing the three bikini-clad girls who walk into his supermarket where he is a checker. His reverie is interrupted, however, by a “witch” whose “feathers” Sammy has to smooth. The older generation are typically symbolized in negative terms throughout the story, those women who cannot and will not understand youth. Queenie, on the other hand, is symbolic of all that is alluring about women and life that might be possible for Sammy on the outside, a life that seems palatable yet unattainable to Sammy.
Stokesie, Sammy’s older co-worker, is symbolic of the life Sammy may well be headed for: married, tied down with children, and few options for another life. Lengel, the manger, is symbolic of those too-far-gone, the adults who, like the witches, could not care less about youthful ambition. Finally, and perhaps most symbolically, is the supermarket itself. It is symbolic of the consumer culture that has a definite heirarchy: the “witches” by bland “HiHo” crackers while Queenie purchases “Fancy Herring Snacks. ” Choices and ConsequencesAn important theme in “A & P” is that of choices and consequences. All of the main characters in the story must make a choice and endure the consequences of that choice. The consequences of these choices are not always apparent to the characters.
A&P Themes and Symbols Essay Example
Sammy, the cashier, makes the most obvious and most painful choice, and on some level he is aware of the consequences. When he chooses to quit his job, he knows that this decision will have ramifications in his life that will last for a long time. His family is affected, and it causes him to recount the situation as “sad. Because he has stood up for something on principle—he was protesting the manager’s chastisement of the girls—he knows life will be difficult for him. If Sammy quits his job every time he encounters a situation he dislikes, his life will become extremely complicated. In the short term, the consequence of quitting is having to find another job, and with his rash decision comes the possibility he will be branded a troublemaker or misfit by the community in which he lives. The three girls must suffer the consequences of having gone to the grocery store in their bathing suits.
It is hard to believe that they had no idea they were improperly dressed. In the early 1960s, women still wore dresses, hats, and gloves most of the time when they were in public. In their youthful exuberance to push the limits of propriety, the girls have been reprimanded by an adult. They have also made quite an impression on two young men, Sammy and Stokesie, which was, perhaps unconsciously, their intention in the first place. Nevertheless, because of their choice to violate community standards, they suffer embarrassment by being reprimanded by an authority figure.Even Sammy’s attempt at solidarity with them is not enough to salvage the situation; they make a hasty retreat from the store and disappear without taking a stand, unlike Sammy. From the girls’ meek reaction, one can surmise that the girls will not take many more risks of the same sort in the future.
Such a brush with authority will likely hem them in, successfully socializing them to accept community norms Sammy, however, because of his quick defiance, is less likely to blindly adhere to arbitrary rules for the sake of maintaining peace.Lengel, too, makes a choice, and for him the consequences are entirely unforeseen. When he comes into the store after “haggling with a truck full of cabbages,” he could have ignored the three girls. They were, after all, standing in the check-out line, and he is “about to scuttle into that door marked ” Instead, he makes the choice to confront the girls in front of Sammy. If he considers any consequences to his actions, he does not show it. He is merely enforcing the social codes of his time and place. He expects that the girls will comply and that Sammy, and anyone else within hearing, will agree with him.
The girls inevitably stop their protestations, as Lengel expected they would, but Sammy quits—an act that Lengel could not have imagined ahead of time. To Lengel’s credit, in spite of his stuffiness and self-importance, he shows Sammy patience. He does not yell or order him immediately out of the store, but warns him of the very real consequences of his act. Yet, it is Lengel’s adherence to the social code—which says that this behavior must go into Sammy’s personnel file and dog him for the rest of his life—that cause those consequences. It is, in a small way, like Greek tragedy.The players in this drama are helpless to act other than the way they do, but it is not the gods who set the parameters of their behavior, but society, with its written and unwritten list of expected behaviors and consequences for deviating from that list. Individualism Sammy asserts his individuality when he quits.
He knows that Lengel has every right, according to the standards of his time, to speak to the girls as he does. But by standing up for the girls, Sammy questions those standards and asserts that there is a higher standard of decency that says one should not embarrass others.In deciding which rules of conduct are more important, he asserts his individuality, unlike the girls who slink away because they know they have violated the rules of conduct. Sammy is the only character in this story who asserts his individuality. Two of the girls are simply following their leader, and Queenie is easily embarrassed and capitulates to Lengel. The other shoppers in the A & P are only “sheep,” nervously herding together at Stokesie’s cash register to avoid the confrontation.Lengel is the enforcer of policy, a term often used for rules that cannot be easily explained with any degree of rationality.
He blindly follows the dictates of society, unable to articulate the reasons for those dictates beyond saying that the A & P” isn’ t the beach,” an observation so obvious and so lacking in reason that it causes Sammy to smile—a small, but definite step toward his rebellion. This story is set in the 1960s, so girls were usually dressed appropriately, even down to white gloves sometimes. So it is very unexpected to see three girls in bathing suits in the supermarket.Sammy links himself with the three rebels and is desperate to get their attention, however, they walk out of the store without giving him a second look. So as he leaves the store, now jobless, he discovers that he has made his life a lot harder with his impulsive behavior. Choices, that is what Sammy makes when he quits, have consequences. Freedom of one individual should not impose on the freedom of another.
The improperly dressed girls violated the rules of the store by shoping in their bathing suits thereby violating the rights of the other shoppers by making them uncomfortable in the environment.