How are the girls in A&P treated like objects?

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Updike's A&P uses a first person narrator to show how men, especially young men, sometimes objectify women in terms of their appearance and intelligence. It goes beyond simple stereotyping to demonstrate a misguided hero-complex that males sometimes indulge in. A few quotes from the story will serve to illuminate Updike’s theme.

The narrator is a cashier at the A&P. He sees three girls walk in wearing their bathing suits. He and several other employees watch the girls move about the store. Every other paragraph or so, the narrator reveals his attitude with a little comment.

He manages to question the mental ability of every female on earth with this thought:

You never know for sure how girls' minds work (do you really think it's a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glassjar?)

In the next quote, the narrator actually compares one of the girl’s chests to a piece of metal:

With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light.

When one of the girls pays for her item using a dollar bill pulled out from her bathing suit top, he compares her breasts to two scoops of ice-cream:

I uncrease the bill, tenderly as you may imagine, it just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known there were.

One of the girls isn’t as attractive as the other two. Look at how he describes her, referring to her as “raw material.”

Big Tall Goony-Goony (not that as raw material she was so bad).

When the store manager chastises the girls for coming into the store underdressed, the narrator tries to be a hero by quitting on the spot. However, the girls don’t even notice what he’s done and it’s all for nothing. At the end of the story we see that he is completely unaware of his attitude toward the girls, as he actually claims them as his own:

I look around for my girls, but they're gone, of course.

It’s important to note that the narrator does all this without intentional malice. The attitude is ingrained, it’s part of him. If you could ask him how he felt about the girls he’d probably say something positive. He’s not aware of his chauvinism.