In "A & P," what comment does Updike make about supermarket society?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Updike is sharply critical of supermarket society, and this criticism is expressed through the voice of his narrator in "A & P," Sammy, who sees the way that Lengel, his boss, treats the girls who have the courage to walk into the supermarket in their bathing costumes as being repressive and unfair. Sammy describes the people in the supermarket variously as being "sheep" and "houseslaves," highlighting the way in which society demands conformity and suppresses individuality. This is of course the role that Lengel fulfills when he challenges the girls and tells them they must not enter the supermarket in their bathing costumes again. The story ends with Sammy's realisation about how hard life is going to be for him now that he has left his job: stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be for me hereafter.

Sammy has taken a stand against "policy" and the conformity that supermarket society instills in society. However, although in one sense he is pleased with the stand he has taken, he also recognises that the very act of making that stand is going to make life harder and more challenging for him, as he is going against the flow and standing out from the norm. Updike therefore presents supermarket society in a very negative light through the various images associated with other characters and the way that Lengel describes his humiliating treatment of the girls as being just following "policy." In supermarket society, Updike seems to suggest, there is no place for individuality and spontaneity, and humans are expected to act like the sheep Sammy describes the shoppers as being in the store.