Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
On its simplest level, “A & P” is a humorous adventure story, in which a young protagonist acts in the name of romantic love—and pays the price. The optimistic reader may feel that a sensitive hero has been freed from a dead-end job and a restrictive moral code, but a more realistic response will also recognize that Sammy’s act has left him in a kind of limbo: He now belongs neither to the world of Lengel and his parents (because he has quit the job they hoped he would keep) nor to the world the girls represent and to which, through his romantic gesture, he aspires. Like Sarty in William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” (another story about a young boy acting against his parents), Sammy’s act takes him, not from one world to another but to a place in between—and nowhere.
Like so many short stories, both European and American, “A & P” is primarily a story of initiation, as a young boy moves from innocence (and ignorance) to experience (and knowledge). Like the young boy in James Joyce’s “Araby,” perhaps the quintessential initiation story, Sammy has gained some knowledge (through what Joyce called an “epiphany” or revelation) both of himself and of adulthood, but he has also discovered “how hard the world was going to be” to those who cling to their romantic notions about life. Lacking as yet the maturity to accept compromise or to live with the world’s injustices, this noble and still uncorrupted youth has acted...
(The entire section is 490 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of A & P Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Choices and Consequences
An important theme in "A & P" is that of choices and consequences. All of the main characters in the story must make a choice and endure the consequences of that choice. The consequences of these choices are not always apparent to the characters. Sammy, the cashier, makes the most obvious and most painful choice, and on some level he is aware of the consequences. When he chooses to quit his job, he knows that this decision will have ramifications in his life that will last for a long time. His family is affected, and it causes him to recount the situation as "sad." Because he has stood up for something on principle—he was protesting the manager's chastisement of the girls—he knows life will be difficult for him. If Sammy quits his job every time he encounters a situation he dislikes, his life will become extremely complicated. In the short term, the consequence of quitting is having to find another job, and with his rash decision comes the possibility he will be branded a troublemaker or misfit by the community in which he lives.
The three girls must suffer the consequences of having gone to the grocery store in their bathing suits. It is hard to believe that they had no idea they were improperly dressed. In the early 1960s, women still wore dresses, hats, and gloves most of the time when they were in public. In their youthful exuberance to push the limits of propriety, the girls have been reprimanded by an...
(The entire section is 868 words.)