A&P Questions and Answers
by John Updike

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In Updike's "A & P" in what respects is the narrator insightful, and in what respects is he not?

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In John Updike's "A & P," the young narrator named Sammy, a cashier of the grocery store, is certainly observant with an eye for quality.  He speaks disparagingly of some of the products in the A & P as the girls come around from the far aisle,

around records at discount of the Caribbean Six or Tony Martin Sings or some such gunk ou wonder they waste the plastic on, sixpacks of candy bars, and plastic toys done up in cellophane that fall apart when a kid looks at them anyway.

Sammy describes the store itself as artificial with its "fluorescent lights" and " checkerboard green-and-cream tile floor," and he perceives its middle-class atmosphere with women

with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs and nobdy, including them, could care less.

In the midst of this atmosphere of "a few houseslaves in pin curlers" the young girls are glared at by the clerks and other men as they stand out from the housewives, making Sammy feel sorry for them.  And, in contrast to his life where his parents serve drinks in tall Schlitz glasses, Sammy notes that  Queenie's selection of pickled herring places her in a living room where her father and other men stand

in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herrring snacks on toothpicks off a big glass plate.

When the Puritanical manager spots the girls and tells them  that they are not decently dressed--"this isn't the beach"--Sammy is struck by Mr. Lengel's tone of voice.  Sammy observes that it is as though he considers himself the head lifequard as he concentrates on giving the girls "that sad Sunday-school-superintendent stare."

The interplay of the manager with the girls causes Sammy to assess Mr. Lengel's statement to the girls that it is store policy that shoulders be covered" as a hypocritical statement:

He turns his back.  That's policy for you.  Policy is what the kingpins want.  What the others want is juvenile delinquency.

Looking at the customers who have listened, Sammy also notices that they are

sheep, seeing a scene, they had all bunched up on Stokesie [another cashier]....

After Sammy tells Lengel that he is quitting in his quixotically romantic moment, Sammy does notice that the customers "knock against each other, like scared pigs in a chute."  Once outside, he sees Lengel "checking the sheep through," and realizes "how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter."

Insightful of others and the environment in which he works, Sammy loses his insight in his impulsive act of chivalry--quitting--meant to impress the girls, .  Once outside looking back in, knowing that the girls have paid little attention to his chivalrous act as they have departed, Sammy regains his insight, ashamed of his folly in momentarily being seduced by the sensuality of the "three Sirens" in swimsuits.


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