A & P Analysis

A & P Analysis
  • Date:
    Dec 23, 2020
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    A & P
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‘A &P’ by John Updike’s work of fiction is staged in such a way to bring some mixed feelings depending on the readers’ perception of reality. Despite being a work of fiction, A& P reflects American society immediately after the world war. Closely choosing the characters to represent the two generations in the society, that is, the young and evolving generation ready to change things for the better and the aging generation that is tied up by customs and tradition, Updike clearly shows the controversy between the two. It’s from this perspective, that the themes are developed, using all arts of literature, such as symbolism, imagery not excluding tone and setting to fully develop the theme.


            A&P is designed to define both the need and resistance to change following the dynamics of the environment. The setting of the story is partially defined. The author deliberately does not mention the name of the town despite trying to explain its location that is a few miles from the beach and north of Boston.    This is meant to enlighten the reader that, the situation that the author is addressing is not limited to any city or town. Being far from the beach is a symbolical item to enlarge the controversy of the half-naked girls, while a distance from Boston makes the shopping Centre a minute and not placed in a city.   Note that when the girls enter the shopping mall, the entire male employees admire their outfits implying that a change towards that direction could not only benefit the young generation but not also the old.  Sammy being the only young employee in the organization moves forward to support the girls, showing the management that their norms and customs required some adjustments (Updike 35). His move to quit his job, although motivated by the urge to please Queenie sent a message to the management that he has been in a wrong environment before and thus the girl’s appearance created a forum for action against being tied up by traditions. As a matter of fact, the manager’s action to embarrass the girls isn’t self-driven but he states it clearly that it’s against the norms and ethics of an organization, leaving some doubt on how he would have reacted without the organization’s regulation.  

Change as a dynamic process

            The theme of change as developed by the author is a continuous process, and with the strict resistance that it faces, those advocating for it might end up being isolated from society. The girls’ nakedness wasn’t meant to bring any change to the norms of A&P but only created a scenario for a second thought. It’s worth noting that there had been a cold war, between the cashiers as a result of the difference between their perspectives towards life. While Sammy was in A&P for some time, the rest of his colleagues had made a home in the organization.  To advocate the room for improvement through change, Sammy regularly criticized his colleague’s future ambition, with some sense of humor to dilute the seriousness of the matter. For instance, when stokes declares that one day he will be a manager in A&P, Sammy laughs out and describes that position as equivalent to a Sunday school teacher (Updike 34), showing the lack of ambition of the older generation.

Character description in support of the theme

            Character selection escalates the effectiveness of the storyline. Being set in a township, characterized by white-collar and blue-collar social classes, it expected their lifestyles ought to differ. However, the author conflicts with this assumption, and groups ideologies in terms of generation.  Sammy, being a youth with some boyish character as the name suggests,    has thoughts and aspirations that are similar to Queenie and her friends. The contrary is that, although Sammy is a casual worker, the three girls are raised in a high standard living environment.    The fact that Sammy, the boy, admires queenie the high-class girl is symbolic.  It shows the character of a generation that is not contented with what it has and strives to achieve a higher social class.  As noted earlier,   Sammy’s job quit was motivated by a desire to please the girls and maybe win queenie’s heart. Therefore, Sammy’s generation is willing to do anything to achieve their ambitions, regardless of what the environment has for them; ‘parents will be annoyed.’  Moreover, the girl’s also decided to go shopping in their bathing suit, not because they did not know the rules but as they wanted some sort of freedom. 

The older generation is depicted as a preservative one, not ready to accommodate any alteration whether pleasing or not. Sammy’s coworker prefers the use of his surname.  The fact that Stokesie is merely 22 years, still young, he is married and settled making him fit very well in his character position. Contrary, the queen’s mother is placed in the young and evolving generation.  The three girls had come to pick some kingfish fancy herring snacks for their house party sent by queenies mother, which contradicts the type of parties which were supposed to be held by the older generation as Sammy describes his parents’ parties (Updike 35).  This conflict in age and generation aligns Sammy’s boyish action that could be seen as a result of his sexist nature with some older people’s thoughts and thus bringing thus increasing the necessity of a change in the society. 

Conflict and change

Updike maintains the conflict by choosing an unclear resolution.  The two generations fight for their stand. Sammy joins his generation colleagues by trying to make the manager that he has done something wrong embarrassing change seekers, which Lengel does not apprehend. Sammy isn’t mad about the current situation but only seeks to correct the loopholes contained. It’s for this reason that he first follows the manager’s instructions before quitting. He is later left to stand alone after quitting his job, but this does not stop him from continuing despite prospecting a hard future. The resolution is that regardless of the fact that the community will view Sammy as a quitter, he has proved to his generation mates that he isn’t going to continue being a sheep. To Sammy, this is all that matters.


In a nutshell, A&P is a story of innovation and creativity towards achieving high ambition, accompanied by full resistance to life betterment. Updike chooses the title, A&P; a grocery and liquor store, to link his work of fiction with a real-life situation of the reader. The nakedness in a commercial setting reflects the controversy in people’s perspective, meant to create the conflict in the story, with the ending not mentioning a winning position but a set of a dynamic environment.  


Updike, John. Pigeon Feathers, and Other Stories. New York: Knopf, 1962. Print.