John Updike's short story "A & P" was first published in the July 22, 1961 issue of the New Yorker, and was published again the following year in the author's collection Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories. Arthur Mizener's review of the collection in the New York Times Book Review exalted Updike in terms that soon became commonplace for the writer: "his natural talent is so great that for some time it has been a positive handicap to him." Almost forty years later, "A & P" remains Updike's most anthologized story and one of his most popular.
Sammy's encounter with a trio of swimsuited girls in the grocery store where he works encompasses many of the themes central to adolescence, including accepting the repercussions of one's choices. When Sammy quits in protest of how the girls are treated by the store's manager, he knows that from now on, the world will be a more difficult place.
Critics have responded enthusiastically to "A & P," and readers' identification with Sammy's predicament has contributed to the story's popularity. Though little action occurs in the story, Sammy's character is finely drawn in the space of a few pages, and his brush with authority has large implications. He has been compared to Holden Caulfield, J. D. Salinger's protagonist in Catcher in the Rye, and Walter Wells has suggested that Sammy's moment of protest is similar to the "epiphany" of the narrator in James Joyce's story "Araby," a comment that places Updike in the pantheon of the most accomplished writers of the twentieth century. Negative reactions to the story center on what some readers perceive as Sammy's misogynist views. Other critics consider "A & P" a slight story, though one into which a lifetime of dignity, choices, and consequences is compressed.
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