What is the central theme of the short story, "A&P"?

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One of the several themes Updike explores throughout the short story "A&P" concerns individualism. The teenage store clerk, Sammy, asserts his individualism by quitting his job after his manager embarrasses several young girls wearing bathing suits in the store, which is against the company's policy. Unlike the other employees and the store's manager, Sammy refuses to conform to the social norms and code of conduct by challenging Lengel, who represents all the conservative moral and social codes of conduct of the town. Sammy also champions the girls' individuality and supports their willingness to break social norms and dismiss the store's policy. By asserting his individuality, Sammy becomes an outcast and he realizes how hard life will be for him in the future.

Updike also explores the themes of class and sexuality in the story. Sammy astutely notices that Queenie and her friends are from the upper class and are protected from the consequences of their actions. Unlike Queenie, Sammy understands that he and Lengel are from the working class and do not share the same privileges as the girls. They must either conform to the social norms or be labeled as outcasts like Sammy at the end of the story. Sammy is also sexually attracted to Queenie while the conservative code of conduct identifies the girls as indecent and shameful. Queenie's sexuality gives her a sense of power and authority as she and her friends turn the heads of customers. Sammy's desire and attraction to Queenie influence him to quit his job in their defense. However, he unknowingly objectifies them as women who are unable to defend themselves.

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There are several important themes that John Updike explores in his short story, "A&P." One is that of actions and consequences, which affects several of the characters. Sammy's decision to quit his job, knowing that it will be tough for him to find another, is the primary example. But the girls also learn that by coming into the grocery store barefoot and in their bathing suits, they may be scrutinized by others who deem their attire inappropriate. The manager's decision to publicly humiliate the girls also may have repercussions among his regular customers who watch the scene. Another theme is that of individualism. Sammy's seemingly chivalric decision to quit his job--supposedly out of disgust for the manager's behavior, but more in the hope that he will impress the girls--shows a streak of individuality missing in the others present. Although the girls don't even seem to notice, Sammy does take a stand concerning rules of conduct that conflict with Lengel's store rules and societal norms. 

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