What literary devices does John Updike use in his short story, "A&P"?

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Michael Otis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"A&P", a short story by the late American author John Updike is a quirky coming-of-age story. It narrates the day when the main character, Sammy, a grocery clerk at the local A&P, offers a noble gesture in the face of petty injustice, but for which he receives no recognition. Along the way his character shifts away from the smart-aleck teen we meet in the first paragraphs of the story. For the authenticity of this shift, Updike depends on three literary devices: colloquial language, attention to detail, and symbolism. The story, told from the first person point of view, engages the reader with a breezy, colloquial tone from the first sentence: "In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits". As Sammy wise-crackingly relates their controversial progress through the grocery aisles, the reader is adopted into the position of friend and confidant. The reader is thus immediately sympathetic, and more than ready to take Sammy's side when he fruitlessly steps out to defend the honour of the girls. Sammy is a keen observer of humanity, dwelling detail by detail on the girls and their disquieting effect on the customers. To be sure, his fascination with the novelty of three underclad teenage girls in a 1950's era grocery store is likely driven by surging testosterone. But the cumulative effect of so much detail is to make the girls presence exotic and glamorous, and a suitable object of Sammy's new found romantic impulse. They are the colourful foreground to the grocery store's drab background. In fact, Updike effectively uses colour symbolism to reinforce the original twist in Sammy's thinking, and to illustrate his perspective on the town: Queenie, the lead girl and the one for whom Sammy has fallen completely, holds "a little gray jar in her hand"; "Stokesie, his fellow cashier "with his usual luck draws an old party in baggy gray pants"; and Lengel, the store manager, as he accuses the girls of indecency "sighs and begins to look very patient and old and gray". The symbolism of the customers, like sheep, mindlessly marching in one direction adds to author's purpose. The vivacious teenage visitation to the dreary routine of the grocery store performs the function of a counterpoint, one that Sammy wants to embrace, albeit in a futile gesture.