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

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John Updike uses many literary devices in the short story "A&P." First, Updike uses diction to develop the character of Sammy. The story is told from his point of view, and Updike draws us into the story with Sammy's use of diction and colloquialisms. Diction is a style of writing...

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John Updike uses many literary devices in the short story "A&P." First, Updike uses diction to develop the character of Sammy. The story is told from his point of view, and Updike draws us into the story with Sammy's use of diction and colloquialisms. Diction is a style of writing determined by the words an author uses. Colloquialisms are defined as the use of informal words or slang. Here is an example:

Now here comes the sad part of the story, at least my family says it's sad but I don't think it's sad myself. The store's pretty empty, it being Thursday afternoon, so there was nothing much to do except lean on the register and wait for the girls to show up again. The whole store was like a pinball machine and I didn't know which tunnel they'd come out of. After a while they come around out of the far aisle, around the light bulbs, records at discount of the Caribbean Six or Tony Martin Sings or some such gunk you wonder they waste the wax on, sixpacks of candy bars, and plastic toys done up in cellophane that faIl apart when a kid looks at them anyway.

Notice the words "gunk" and "wax," which are a reference to vinyl records, and the conversational tone taken by the narrator. Wax and gunk are colloquialisms. The effect created on the reader is to transport us back to the 1950s as we see the world through Sammy's eyes.

Updike also makes frequent use of simile, metaphor, and alliteration in this story. Sammy compares a customer in the grocery store to a witch, continuing the metaphor with the sentiment that she would have been burned in Salem. Sammy compares the leader of the three girls to a queen without using "like" or "as"—another metaphor. Another metaphor Sammy uses is to compare the customers at the grocery store to sheep.

In several places throughout this story, Updike makes use of alliteration—two or more words that begin with the same consonant sound. One of the longest examples of alliteration is this: "He didn't like my smiling—as I say he doesn't miss much—but he concentrates on giving the girls that sad Sunday school superintendent stare." Notice the repetition of the "s" sound.

The following quote is an example of imagery, metaphor, and idiom:

All of a sudden I slid right down her voice into her living room. Her father and the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them. When my parents have somebody over they get lemonade and if it's a real racy affair Schlitz in tall glasses with "They'll Do It Every Time" cartoons stencilled on.

Notice the sight imagery in the "ice cream coats" and "drinks the color of water." The metaphor is the comparison of the "queen's" voice to a slide. It is an idiom because it has to be taken figuratively. One could not extract meaning from the literal definition of the words themselves in the sentence "All of a sudden I slid right down her voice into her living room."

There are quite a few similes in the story. Here is one example: "A couple customers that had been heading for my slot begin to knock against each other, like scared pigs in a chute."

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"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.  

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