Adulthood in Updike’s A&P Essay
Updated: Nov 29th, 2018
“A&P” is a narrative that was authored by John Updike and published in 1961. The narrator in this story is Sammy a teenage boy who is working as a cashier in a grocery store. Sammy is severely dissatisfied with his current job and the conduct of his boss.
Updike’s story describes the events surrounding the actions of a young boy who is stuck at a dead end job. His decision to quit his job sparks controversy in his work place. The theme of maturity in “A&P” is explored in detail by Updike. This paper will explore the affirmation of adulthood as expressed by Sammy in “A&P”.
Sammy spends his days serving customers at the cash register. At certain times, Sammy’s job might include giving explanations to disgruntled customers. His job remains boring until one afternoon when three bikini-wearing girls walk into the establishment. In the narration, Sammy describes the girls just like an adolescent boy would.
The girls’ dress mode causes quite a stir in the store. To Sammy’s surprise, all the men in the store start ogling at the girls including the older men. The charade is cut short by A&P’s manager who confronts the girls for indecency consequently embarrassing them. Sammy seizes this opportunity to act as the hero by protesting the manager’s actions and quitting his job. However, none of the girls notices his heroism.
Many readers of this story would commend Sammy for being a hero, standing up to his manager, and quitting his job. However, there are those who are of the view that Sammy’s decision is a reflection of his immaturity. There is a hint of truth to the latter argument because of the way the narrator is presented by the story.
Three desirable bikini-clad girls enter the store and consequently grab the attention of every man. It is therefore likely that Sammy made the decision to quit his job so as to get the girls’ attention. Nevertheless, Sammy’s actions could also be signaling his transition to adulthood. Sammy might have realized that sometimes a man has to make a decision and follow through with it thereby reaffirming his adulthood.
When the reader is first introduced to Sammy, it is apparent that he is the embodiment of youth and immaturity. Even the first line from the young narrator’s mouth is “in walks three girls with nothing but bathing suits” (Updike 1026). This line opens Sammy’s way of thinking to the readers’ scrutiny.
The subsequent narration is synonymous with that of an adolescent. This initial encounter with the main character spells his immaturity. At one point, Sammy forgets his job just to ogle at the girls. While this encounter shows the main character’s immature nature, his later actions signify a migration to maturity.
The readers are not the only ones who take note of Sammy’s immaturity. The author notes that Sammy is wearing the “white shirt that his mother ironed the night before”. The manager at A& P also warns Sammy not to disappoint his “mom and dad” by quitting. This implies that Sammy’s efforts as a worker might be benefitting his parents.
This is further proof that Sammy is not necessarily immature but he is transitioning to adulthood. His actions are his way of setting the record straight and reaffirming his adulthood. That is why he is not concerned about pleasing his father and mother. He articulates that from that point forward, his actions as an adult only impact his life.
Sammy’s thoughts are not entirely hormonal. He realizes that he is now moving towards adulthood. This is why he compares himself with his coworker Stokesie. Due to his age, Stokesie is considered an adult. However, in Sammy’s view the only difference between them is that Stokesie has a family and he (Sammy) does not.
He assesses his life and that of Stokesie using their current dreams. While Stokesie wants to be the store’s manager, Sammy’s future life is imagined to be away the store. For instance, he seems to envy the life he imagines Queenie’s father is living (Updike 1028). The way Sammy contemplates the future and assesses the current situation is an affirmation of adulthood.
Sammy first quit his job hoping that he would impress the girls. However, after this does not work he still follows through with his decision. One possible reason for this action is that Sammy had the urge to quit but he had not found the opportunity (Magill 2334). This is why when he is given a chance to reconsider his decision he does not change his mind.
His earlier thoughts show that his dissatisfaction with his current job is quite prominent. This is why his decision may not be as shallow and immature as it seems. The need to justify his decision may be another attempt to reaffirm his adulthood. This is because he realizes that as an adult he cannot quit his job for no reason.
The main theme in Updike’s “A&P” is that of growing up. The author uses the story’s main character and narrator to develop this theme. The story begins with an adolescent boy ogling at bikini-clad girls and ends with the same boy staring at a parking lot and realizing that his life is going to be very hard. This is a true affirmation of adulthood.
Magill, Frank. Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 1993. Print. Updike, John. Harper Anthology of Fiction, New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1989. Print.
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