How can I identify the insight of the story "A & P" by John Updike?I already know the theme of the story, but in my thesis I have to include the insight.  What point does the story make about...

How can I identify the insight of the story "A & P" by John Updike?

I already know the theme of the story, but in my thesis I have to include the insight.  What point does the story make about the theme of individuality and immaturity.

Asked on by bella19

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clairewait's profile pic

clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In order to cover this part of the essay, I think I would focus on the point-of-view.  The short story is told by Sammy, who is 19.  Consider his tone/attitude and diction (you are hearing his thoughts, afterall, in addition to the dialogue of the story).

He's a typical teenaged boy, enthralled by the sex appeal of the girls in the bathing suits, and he does not hide this.  But his tone comes across as casual, almost as if he's attempting to sound apathetic.  He sort of "plays it cool," if that makes sense.  Using such a tone, he can question authority and make a stand for himself, the girls, and the overall "principle" of the situation (assert his individuality), but if he fails he doesn't really lose anything because he wasn't that invested in the first place.  Any adult watching this situation (especially those in the store that day) would likely see nothing heroic about Sammy's final action of folding up his apron.  In fact, I might argue that his defense of the girls' immaturity puts his own discretion and maturity closer to their level.  But because he is the one telling the story, through this confidently aloof tone, he can get away with a feeling of triumph at the end (or, at least convince himself that he is in fact triumphant; an adult audience is still hesitant to really buy it).  Sammy's tone and attitude alone point to his youth/immaturity/inexperience and desire for individuality.

Possibly half of each body paragraph could be devoted to a specific example proving your theme and half to Sammy's perspective on that example.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

While John Updike's short story "A&P" has its narrative directed by the first-person point of view, the story is yet told from two different levels.  On one level, Updike shows readers the complex world that adults inhabit and the compromises that are needed to function in this world.  Then, on another level, Updike displays the generation gap in which Sammy acts  to protect the girls from the world of adults only to find himself locked out of the two worlds himself.

In order to illustrate these two levels of insight, the reader need only compare and contrast the dialogue of the adults with the internal dialogue of Sammy.  For instance, after Sammy has committed his chilvarous act of saying he quits, Lengel

sighs and begins to look very patient and old and gray.  He's been a friend of my parents for years.  "Sammy, you don't want to do this to your Mom and Dad," he tells me.

But, Sammy reacts impulsively and without thinking things through:

It's true, I don't.  But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture, it's fatal not to go through with it....remembering how he made the pretty girl blush makes me so scrunchy inside I punch the No Sale tab and the mahine whirs "pee-pul" and the drawer splat out....

Once outside, of course, he realizes "how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter."

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