Does the text of "A & P" address any universal themes?

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Yes, I would say that the story "A&P" contains some universal themes. I think that is one reason why the story continues to be taught to students in modern day classrooms. If the story didn't have anything applicable to a modern reader, the presence of universal themes would be suspect....

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Yes, I would say that the story "A&P" contains some universal themes. I think that is one reason why the story continues to be taught to students in modern day classrooms. If the story didn't have anything applicable to a modern reader, the presence of universal themes would be suspect. The previous answers spoke to the story's emphasis on individuality, and I think that theme is present; however, I would like to focus on a different theme. I think there is a theme of heroism present with the text of this story. Sammy likely quits his job in part to show his individualism, but he also believes that his actions will be seen as heroic by the girls.

The girls, and who'd blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say "I quit" to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they'll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero.

Examining whether or not Sammy is a hero that displays heroic like qualities always sparks lively class discussions. On one hand, Sammy is trying to stand up for the girls and protect them from what he sees as Lengel's unfair treatment of them.

"You didn't have to embarrass them."

That's quite heroic; however, his "heroic" act isn't exactly selfless. He is hoping for recognition and perhaps reward from the girls. He already envisioned himself experiencing the good life he imagines Queenie lives.

All of a sudden I slid right down her voice into her living room. Her father and the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them.

Sammy wants his heroism to have some kind of payoff from the girls, and that hardly seems like a truly heroic act.

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Claiming that a theme is "universal" is problematic as it depends on assuming that one knows that something is an theme in every human cultural production that has existed on our planet in a period of over five millennia, an assumption that is extremely unlikely to be supportable.

The story "A&P" describes the experience of a lower-middle-class young man in the early 1960s. It is a story of coming-of-age and assertion of individualism against societal norms.

In most cultures, there are rituals or stories that address coming-of-age issues and what separates a child from a full member of a society. However, in many cultures, such stories revolve around integration into community and being adult is treated as a matter of joining one's community as a productive and contributing member, something one earns by demonstrating skill or courage, by, for example, succeeding in hunting a dangerous animal to provide food for one's community.

Updike's story, in which adulthood is conflated with a sort of selfish individualism—quitting a job that is needed to provide income for one's family to somehow demonstrate adolescent rebelliousness or non-conformity for its own sake—is one which is grounded in the beliefs and circumstances of modern western culture. Rather than adulthood being demonstrated by useful skills or positive contributions, both the girls and young man in the story view random and unproductive gestures of rebellion as, in some way, assertions of maturity. This conflation of anti-social gestures with a sort of adolescent coming-of-age is quite culturally specific.

As the essential tensions and themes of the story exist within a very localized and historically idiosyncratic cultural context, they cannot be said to be universal. Instead, they reveal specific characteristics of modern American culture and the ways in which adolescence is portrayed within that culture.

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One universal theme is individuality and free will. The girls have to know that they will draw attention by walking into the store in just their bathing suits. In the context of this story and its time, I would say that their exhibition is sexually provocative; but not so much as the more modern sense of self-objectification (as in flaunting promiscuity as the "dumb blonde.") I think it is more about freedom of expression in general in a 1960s anti-conventionalism. Yeah, they're young, but they're aware and I think their actions might be seen as juvenile and making a sort of adolescent anti-traditional statement.

Sammy, in quiting his job, asserts his free will and individuality, knowing that this decision will follow him. It may be harder for him to get a job with this on his record. Like the duality of the girls, who go into the store in bathing suits just to be noticed and to spite conservatism, Sammy quits to assert his individuality and free will and to impress or stand up for the girls, who don't seem to notice.

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