What is the allegory of the story "A&P" by John Updike? What is the tone and atmosphere?

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm not sure that this story is a true allegory. Although it contains allegorical elements like symbolism, the message at the end of the story is not posed as a message we should learn from, but a lesson Sammy learns and we are free to agree or disagree with his actions. Sammy quits his job, and, symbolically rings up "No Sale". He is not buying the manager's argument that he think about his actions and go along with the manager's chastisement of the girls for breaking the social dress codes of the day. However, Sammy expects some recognition from the girls for his actions, and he is simply ignored. The question becomes, "Did Sammy do the right thing?" Many people will answer this question differently. Allegories are usually more straightforward in their lessons. However, allegories generally depend upon symbolism to teach their lessons and "A and P" does employ the use of symbolism. The HiHo crackers symbolize Sammy's mood when he first sees the girls. The other shoppers are compared to sheep; the girls are bees who buzz around the store and they are lead by a queen. The falling shoulder straps are an obvious symbol for sexual freedom. As in most stories, the tone and atmosphere change during the course of the story. The atmosphere is one of distraction as the girls walk into the store and gets more intense as the story progresses. The tone follows Sammy's various reactions to the girls from surprise to frustration and to finally anger and acceptance of his actions