Decisions of the Youth: Finding out about Consequences in ‘A&P’
“A & P” is a humorous adventure story in which a young fellow acts in the name of romance and love. One might believe that this sensitive hero has been set free from a job that would lead him nowhere and a restrictive moral code. Looking at this story in a more realistic perspective, one will also recognize that this young fellow, by the name of Sammy, actually is in an awkward situation. He is at a stage in his life where he is nor adult or child, and especially nor to the world of women respecting his romantic gestures. Like in a previous story “Barn Burning,” Sammy’s act takes him to a place in between nowhere and somewhere. Updike’s “A & P” is a story about consequences and power. In “A & P,” Updike uses the perspective of a youth, the irony of an unnoticed gesture, and the contrast between classes to show consequences and power.
Starting off on A&P, we have our initial character, Sammy. Sammy is a young man that has plenty of potential to go far in his career path, although what he ultimately chooses to do in his path affects himself, his parents and everyone around him. Sammy is a good way to explain a small percentage of young adults we have nowadays, as most of our young adults have their own experiences as well as their own ways of taking an outlook on a life perspective. Sammy has the biggest role in the conflict of the story, as well as he sets the strong character roles like no other character in the story. For example, the girls in the story play a strong role in Sammy’s actions, however, if they were not there, Sammy would not have been fed up with the choice words his boss said to the girls and would still be working at the store. The other characters in the story are relatively important, like any story, but the main idea of this tale lies within the young man Sammy’s potential and choices.
Sammy, being a young, inexperienced man, has a lot to learn about women, bosses, employees, career paths, choices, and the way life works as a whole. Throughout the story, Sammy begins at his workplace, a grocery store named “A&P,” hence the name of the story. Within this grocery store, Sammy is working the cash register as a cashier, setting the plot into effect, as it introduces our next string of characters, the “Three teenage girls.” The girls are symbolized as strong desire for the opposite sex: the bathing suits provide an eye catching and head turning reaction to every man in the store and each employee, Sammy and Stokesie included. The plot starts to begin as Sammy notices the girls walking by, until Sammy catches himself keeping up with the girls for every minute that they walk around, as well as how he judges and appraises the girls while trying to think of what their perspectives are. The reader is almost conflicted with what the girls are actually doing. Are they really shopping, or are they just messing around at the A & P? The work at A&P is exceptionally repetitive and doesn’t urge Sammy to be innovative. He says that now and again the activity is exhausting to the point that he can hear melodies from the sales register. As well as can be expected, he would like to progress towards becoming in his present place of employment as store manager. In addition, Sammy is miserable at his work environment and he is happy when the three young ladies stroll in and take his brain away from his work and away from his little, shut-down world. He wants an alternate sort of life that is declared by the three young ladies who are obviously from an alternative social gap. Sammy originates from a lower social class and the excellence of the young ladies makes him want to have the sort of life they have and live uninhibitedly as they do. He wants to be able to do whatever he pleases, like the three girls that casually stroll into his store. His current life is already occupied by his current day-to-day schedule, but it is apparent that he needs a break. They are free from social norms and Sammy wishes to increase such an opportunity that is not in his little world.
The story is set during the nineteen fifties to ensure that readers would be familiar with an A & P. By setting the story in this decade and era, the story leads to encompass a sense of old-fashioned conventionality, while also showing capitalism and entrepreneurship.We find out about Sammy’s station in life through the setting of the story. He is certifiably not a big deal war saint or hotshot, however, he is a checker at a community A & P. He does not not climb in his own activity. He is basically dormant. Although the plot and setting are being put in place for the audience, there is another symbol that is being set in motion; Sammy finds himself noticing and focusing on the most conventionally attractive and beautiful of the three girls, and then decides to give her a nickname, as “Queenie”. Sammy then starts to put himself in a daydreaming and brainstorming situation as he is trying to figure out what Queenie has been through as well as what her experiences have been. Moreover, he is fascinated by the girl with the green bikini. All three of these girls have narrowing characteristics, and Sammy is engrossed by the group. Now, some conflict is about to arise in the story, as Sammy is interrupted by a fellow co-worker, named “Stokesie”. Stokesie approaches Sammy and begins to start joking with him, and Sammy, as the good co-worker that knows how to approach a situation like this, jokes along, although inside Sammy feels a different way.
Sammy is struck by a sense of irony and conflict from this situation, as it is ironic that he wants to joke with his co-worker, but he wants to be involved with the girls, going against his own will to ensure he stays in pace with Stokesie. This can be attributed to the slow-paced atmosphere of the A & P store, as well as the many underlying struggles Sammy encompasses in his life. Sammy then proceeds to keep eyeing the women, as more and more men around the store keep eyeing and talking about the girls, as well. This prerogative creates some animosity among Sammy, although he does not acknowledge it to himself. He wants to enjoy what he is viewing without anyone else getting in his way. Not to mention, the store is located in the center of town, where bathing suits are never the proper attire to wear to a store. We know that the setting of the story is near Boston, and conservatism towards women during the fifties was at an all time high. It was unheard of for a woman to go around flaunting herself in public in a bathing suit far away from a beach or a pool. These factors intrigue Sammy even more, as well as the other men around him, too. This choosing of clothing has caused this plot and setting to intensify as Sammy begins to realize and pick up on what is really happening.
Once Sammy starts to see the bigger picture, he begins to expand his thinking onto other opportunities. He then realizes the true symbol of this situation, as Stokesie is just a man with a career to work for “A & P” until he retires. Sammy quickly realizes this is not what he was meant for, as he has much bigger plans and ideas for the future, as he picks up on the potential he has. Sammy also starts to develop some more reasoning behind his choices, as he starts to think about what is it like to be the three girls in this situation. Sammy then begins to expand our plot and ramp it up as Sammy starts to feel a type of empathy and pity for the girls. Since Sammy is still thinking about the girls and about the feeling they might have, a little part of irony takes place, as Sammy was joking with his coworker about the girls, but now he has empathy and pity for the girls. The girls can be seen as a larger metaphor for the entire story. They represent freedom in its genuine form. Three women, walking around essentially naked in public. Sammy wants to be free from his eternal hell and manifest his life into something of greater character.
Sammy’s feelings of pity and empathy turned to pure joy and excitement as he notices the girls approaching his checkout line. Before the girls entered the line, Sammy was attempting to focus on a customer who was in front of the girls. Filled with nervousness and anxiety Sammy noticed he had an item in his hand and could not figure out if he had rang it up or not. He chose to ring up the item one more time, and got himself in a difficult situation with a client who continued to belittle him. Sammy’s adolescence can be clarified here in light of the fact that he let the nearness of the young ladies meddle with his work. The plot is reaching a pre-climax, technically considered a “rising action,” as the girls enter his line and proceed to be checked out by Sammy. Once Sammy begins to check the girls out, a new character is about to appear, known as Sammy’s Manager, “Lengel.” The true conflict starts with Lengel approaching Sammy’s line and starting to rudely state to the girls that bathing suits are against the dress code and he has to “cite policy.” Sammy does not take this argument lightly as he already feels some type of empathy and pity for the girls, so Sammy decides that the reasoning behind Lengel’s actions are not valid and are unnecessary for the situation that Sammy has. Lengel is getting in the way of Sammy’s true happiness: freedom. Once again, some aspect of his life, both figuratively and literally, is halting him from his true potential. If it was not for Lengel’s comment towards the girls, they would still be galavanting around the shop, enticing Sammy even more. Even though this conflict was necessary, if it did not happen, Sammy would not have left the A & P and discovered a whole new world.
The true conflict has arrived as Sammy has presented himself with three options. He either stands up for the girls, says nothing and let Lengel take action, or defends Lengel and puts the blame on the girls. With the climax being the point in a plot that creates the anticipation and suspense, this point in Updike’s ‘A & P’ is the activity during which the contention is settled. For, in reality, Sammy’s insubordinate activity intended to dazzle the young ladies does not resolve anything. At the point when Sammy tells Mr. Lengel that he quits, Mr. Lengal hopes to save Sammy from this decision by stating ‘I don’t think you know what you’re saying.’ This only pushes Sammy to believing that what he is doing is right and he should not turn back now as he continues to walk out of the store. Lengel deprecates Sammy’s initial comment and questions what he said. If Sammy did not speak up for himself, there would be an entirely different outcome to the story and Sammy would continue to work at a job he knew he was not destined to be at.
This is where the dramatic irony of Updike’s story comes into place. Sammy’s grand gesture of quitting his job in order to stand up to Lengel’s judgement of the girls falls short of any real heroic action. Sadly, the girls do not even notice his feat because they have already exited the store at this point. Perhaps all that Sammy accomplished was unemployment. In reality, the girls and Sammy are from two completely different economic and social worlds. Sammy will have more ramifications because of his decisions than the three girls will. His deed is not only unrewarded, but it also negatively affects his life. He is now at a standstill with no job, no females, and no clue on what to do with his life. This can be seen as a worrisome ending, or it can be viewed as a new beginning for Sammy. Maybe the girls were not the right metaphor for his life, however, Sammy knew the A & P was a burden on himself, as well as many other aspects of his life, too.
The theme of A & P is consequences and power. All of the characters in this story must make rash decisions and then deal with the consequences after the choice is made. The consequences to some of these choices are not always apparent to the characters. Looking in depth at the greatest choice is Sammy quitting his job. He made the conscious decision to quit his job and never look back, further complicating his situation. When he decided to quit the job, he chose to deal with all of the consequences that may follow his decision. These results will be not having any money, possibly not getting this particular job back, and having to face his parents. Even though he did not consider any of these factors when he quit his job, subconsciously he knew what he was doing was right. He did not believe it was warranted for Lengel to comment on how the girls were dressed, as well as how he has been treated by customers in the past at his job. The reader does not know what other struggles Sammy has gone through in the past, but this whole situation at the A & P that the audience has experienced can be comparable to others that have most likely occurred.
Typically characters in a story are considered flat, round, static or dynamic. All of these factors are dependent on the level of complexity and change the character has to offer to the story. Sammy is a dynamic character, especially since he is the protagonist. He is also considered as round because he is the main feature of this entire story. This story is told from Sammy’s point of view, and we find out much more about Sammy than we do about the other characters. He is characterized as round seeing as that throughout the story the reader could pinpoint exactly how he felt about a situation and the audience can see the complexity behind his thinking. Being a dynamic character comes into play after Sammy decides to quit his job. After he quits, he realizes that his courageous actions were a lost cause. He develops the mindset that he will not conform to being the sheep in his small town. He shows the readers that it will definitely not be easy, but he will make his own way in the world one way or another.
Overall, the story of A & P took the reader through a journey of a character stuck in a rut. Sammy is a great representation of almost every individual caught in between those awkward years of almost being a real adult, but not feeling completely independent. Even though he is his own person, Sammy is still tied to working just to live. Those three girls represented much more than just something easy on the eyes, they represented pure, genuine freedom. Sammy yearns to be self-sufficient in his journey of life. The A & P was holding Sammy back. Even in the fifties he realized this. Seeing something so controversial was his only way out, and seeking to reform injustice was exactly that. Not only the injustice of materializing women, but the injustice of his entire job, life, and most importantly his perspective of others. He realized that Lengel was not the best boss for him and that the A & P was not where he was destined to be for the rest of his life. Sure, there are some that are completely fulfilled by working at this type of job, however, Sammy was not apart of that equation. He may not know where he is going to end up or how long he will last, but he does know that he was true to himself and finally found his independence. He does not need to rely on some workplace that does not acknowledge what he brings to the table, and he deserves more.
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