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John Updike's story, "A & P," is told from the first person point of view with Sammy as the narrator. The setting for the story is a local grocery store in Massachusetts in the early 1960's. The author indicated that Sammy was a somewhat autobiographical character.
The story is told in flashback with Sammy explaining what happened at the grocery store. Unfortunately, for Sammy his romantic but foolish gesture has left him without a job.
Sammy, a typical boy for the times, is both sarcastic and romantic. His observations include everything and everyone that come into the store. However, Sammy's world becomes interesting when three girls come into the store with bathing suits on and bare footed. Sammy is drawn to the lead girl that he nicknames Queenie. He watches the girls as they shop.
The one that caught my eye first was the one in the plaid green two-piece. She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs of her legs.
Soon the girls come to his checking line with a jar of herring and one dollar from her bra top. Sammy is impressed. The store manager spots the girls and embarrasses by telling them not to come back to the store inappropriately dressed. The "no shoes, no shirt, no service" policy was not activated then. However, a strong dress code was in play. Girls wore dresses, women wore high heels and gloves, and men wore ties when they went to town. They did not wear bathing suits into a store.
Sammy has sympathy for the girls. All of the customers feel nervous because of the incident. Few people like confrontation. As the girls hurry out of the store, Sammy reacts by making the gesture, "I quit!" Unfortunately, his heroic stance failed to get the attention from the girls that he desired because they do not even hear him.
The interaction between Sammy and the girls is limited to his observations. Sammy knows in his heart the girls were not dressed to shop in the store.
You know, it's one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on the beach, where what with the glare nobody can look at each other much anyway, and another thing in the cool of the A & P, under the fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages, with her feet paddling along naked over our checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor.
He watches and wishes that Queenie would notice him, but it does not happen. The sympathy that he feels for the girls is real, but not exactly pure in his intention. To be a real hero, Sammy should have quit to make a statement against the rules of society. However, Sammy also wants to be noticed by the girls.
Everyone loses in the story. Sammy needs a job; the girls were reprimanded; and the store manager has lost a good employee. The reader knows that all of the characters suffered from the consequences of their actions.
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