Review of "A&P" Short Story
The short story "A&P" by John Updike is a modest, yetsplendid account of Sammy, a juvenile worker and his encounter withthree youthful girls as well as his tactless decision to quit his jobin a bid to defend human dignity. The story is rich in illustrationsof sociological concepts and provides impactful lessons to the readerand the community as a whole. The story provides an impeccableillustration of the ripples of change through Sammy, who in a smallmanner fight the system. Updike’s illustration of Sammy’s defiantacts against the delicate disparity of power, sarcastic nature,disdain, and different thinking provides great teaching regardingnonconformity as well as how it can bring change. The discussion,therefore, centers on the story’s example of social knowledge,author’s intentions on the reader and lessons on conventionalassumptions.
Some of the events unfolding in the story promote concepts of humandignity, freedom and cultural diversity. To begin with, most of thecultural norms advocate for decent clothing in public places as acommon knowledge for all. In the story, the three young ladies enterthe supermarket in swimsuits contrary to universal human dignity.Sammy accounts, “In walks these three girls innothing but bathing suits,” (596). This move drawseveryone’s attention to the extent of turning back to watch them indisbelief. Wearing bath suits in public places is an example ofdisregard for the social values known to all members of the society.However, at another angle, bathing suits represent nonconformity toother the societies implying freedom to livelihood practices. To somecommunities, such acts would not infringe anyone’s awareness as itresides within the culture.
Another example of society knowledge manifests in the freedom ofexpression as portrayed by various characters building the shortstory. When the girls in bath suits disrupt the society system,Lengel acts as the authoritative figure making an individual choiceto warn them about their skimpy attire. When Lengel says to thegirls, “We want you decently dressed when youcome in here,” Queenie retorts, “We are decent,” (600). Thisshows that Lengel attempts to enforce the norms the girlsviolate, but the girls want have none of it, which explicates thefreedom of expression and desire to reject manipulations. Queenie’sdecision to respond to Lengel without fear whatsoever standing firmthat they are decently dressed, also shows how non-conformity shapesfreedom in the story. Besides there no restrictions on Sammydecisions on quitting his job as much as Lengel is kind enough tomention out the consequences.
The author intends to illustrate chiefly the effects of conformityversus nonconformity in the society. The employees and the people inthe small town save for Sammy and the girls abide by the conventionalnorms. When the story starts, Sammy establishes his contempt forconsumerism and conformity. He refers to the people of the town assheep, for example, in one instance he says, “thecustomers had been showing up with their carts but, you know, sheep,seeing a scene, they had all bunched up on Stokesie,” (600)attributing to their daily routines that can never rouse since noneof them seem to go against traditions. Moreover, Sammy reveals thatconformity bears neither happiness nor platforms for self-growth. Forinstance, as is the case with Lengel, who spends the entire day inthe office, there is no room for thinking outside the box. He alsomentions that Stockesie dreams of becoming a manager in the samelocal supermarket rather than exploring self-capabilities. Whenpeople such as Lengel, Stockesie, and the other shoppers commit totraditions, they hinder discovering other abilities that define lifeand exercise more freedom.
At the time, Updike aims at revealing the transformation that resultsfrom non-conforming. From the beginning, he distinguishes Sammy fromthe rest of the co-workers. As the plot unveils, Sammy gets the ideaof exercising freedom from the girl’s attire and behavior at thestore. When Lengel points out that the dressing is not appropriatefor the supermarket, Sammy finds it necessary to position up for thegirl’s embarrassment contrary to standard guidelines. Sammy tellsLengel, “I quit..,You didn`t have to embarrassthem,” (601). It follows that Sammy now learns to beindependent as well as how to make decisions considering theirresponsibilities and consequences. He chooses and risks rising abovehis parents trap to exercise self-independence. To proof theconformity effect of transformation, Sammy does not change his plansbecause his on breaking off the parents trap for to seek moreindependence. The girls, on the other hand, not only present a groupof non-conformists who just disobey the traditions to suit theirdefinitions of freedom and power but figure that influence otherschange.
The short story teaches the readers that defying general guidelinesaffects their lives in various ways. The society will always presentconsequences of engaging in what is deemed unacceptable in thecommunity. Walking casually half or almost naked in local storesubjected the girls to public humiliation in as much as the storydoes mention of the girls feeling embarrassed. More so, socialdefiance does not always yield rewards or appreciation, as peoplemight tend to perceive. Sammy thought it wise to cover up theembarrassment in exchange for appreciation and recognition that nevertook place, although he gained freedom. Making life-impactingdecisions because of minor defensive reasons is as good as spittingagainst the wind. Rebellious acts can be thoughtless and immature asSammy’s illustrates through the realization of tough times aheadwithout work when he stands on the parking lot to notice customerswaiting outside A& P store. However, the rebellious acts, ifdirected to power disparities may become fruitful often advancingfreedom. The story also teaches that desires are a subset of culturalstrength that influences our activities and drives us to eitherconform or non-conform.
A& P short story highlights the individual positions in thesociety. People are either conformers or rebels of the routinepractices. As much everyone is entitled to freedom, the story urgesthat the liberation make sense when used logically to bring goodresults. There is a price that an individual pays for every decisionmade. Moreover, the story shows how trivial acts can changesituations as well as allow people to realize their potential orappreciate their trodden freedom.
Updike, John. "A&P." TheEarly Stories: 1953-1975.Ed. John Updike. A.A. Knopf, 2003. Print.