In the Story "A&P" by John Updike, what is the theme being expressed throughout the story?

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William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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          Most discussions of John Updike’s well-know story “A & P” treat the young characters with sympathy. It is natural to do so, since the story is told from the point of view of the young grocery clerk who is immediately attracted to the three adolescent girls who enter in their bathing suits. But Updike, either intentionally or inadvertently, leaves his incident open to an opposite interpretation. The four young people involved—Sammy and the three girls—might be taken to represent the spoiled, self-indulgent young white Americans who take it for granted that the world owes them a living, who may finally be waking up to the fact that life is a constant struggle for existence and that employers aren’t waiting for them with open arms even though many of them can’t spell, can’t write a coherent sentence, can’t say “Thank you,” and don’t really want to work in the first place.

          The three girls enter the market in this conservative small town wearing skimpy bathing suits and walking on bare feet. They are conscious that their behavior is inappropriate. It is only because they are pretty girls that they dare to do what is equivalent to three young men entering barefoot and bare-chested, wearing only khaki shorts. Many restaurants these days have signs in their front windows reading something like: NO SHOES, NO SHIRTS, NO SERVICE. It would seem that such signs should not be necessary—that people should have learned certain minimal rules of civilized behavior.

          The fact that the girls are wearing only bathing suits and that Sammy discards his apron might be intended to symbolize that American youth would like life to be a permanent vacation. A lot are in for a shock—as Sammy seems to realize intuitively when he foresees that the Darwinian-Malthusian world will be a harder place for him from now on.

          Updike’s story should not be read solely as an ode to youth or a defense of the four young characters involved.

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pmiranda2857 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The main theme that runs through A & P is the idea of choices and consequences. There is also a commentary in the story about freedom and rules.  Sammy works at a supermarket where he views all the people he sees as stupid sheep.  He observes the activity in the store from a sarcastic, mocking tone.  Everyone looks the same to Sammy except when the young girls come in wearing the...

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