What is the mood of John Updike's "A & P?"

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In "A&P," the mood shifts: it feels light, apprehensive, aroused, nervous, triumphant, and finally extremely apprehensive. Initially, Sammy's mood is relatively light. He at work and the day is quite typical except for the girls in bikinis. Now, he does imply that the other frequent customers find the girls' attire too risqué, and therefore this creates a rise in tension for those customers. Sammy is aroused by this spectacle and by Queenie in particular. Externally, Sammy plays it cool. His behavior remains somewhat light as he jokes with Stokesie about this rare sight at the A&P. But with the uncomfortable customers and Sammy's intrigue, the mood shifts with rising tension.

Sammy tells us when the mood shifts again. He notes,

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.

Much to Sammy's delight, the girls come through his line, and Queenie produces the money from her top. It is at this point that Sammy adds,

Then everybody's luck begins to run out.

By "everybody," Sammy means himself, the girls, and probably Stokesie to some degree. Lengel scolds the girls, and Sammy smiles at his repetition. Lengel wants to uphold a traditional, conservative 1950s public code of behavior, and Sammy, out of attraction and inclinations of social rebellion, wants to at least try out a more liberal 1960s culture of free expression. So he sticks up for the girls. That sounds a bit deep for this encounter, but below the surface, that is what Sammy's thought process might be.

During this confrontation, Sammy adds that everyone is getting nervous. This is classic rising tension en route to some climax. The girls leave, and Sammy abruptly quits, hoping the girls recognize his heroic gesture. They don't. Sammy has noted this is the sad part of the story, but that is according to his family, who had assumed he had made an irresponsible decision. For Sammy, there is some sadness that the girls miss his gesture. But more importantly, he feels this was a real moment of rebellion for him. Having left the more conservative culture of his parents' (and Lengel's) generation, he is full of apprehension, perhaps some excitement, and maybe even dread at how his life will become:

. . . and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.

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Updike's "A&P," like many well-written short stories, offers shifting moods. Sammy's narration is delivered convincingly in the vernacular of a teenage boy in the early 1960s, and it is often quite funny. For example, his observation of the adult shoppers who encounter the scantily dressed girls is:

You could see them, when Queenie's white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and on they pushed.

Sammy's teenage cynicism, as he terms the shoppers as "sheep," is comical and realistic, as is his obvious attraction to the girls' bodies. The mood shifts when Sammy takes his stand against Lengel's sternness with the girls. The futility of Sammy's protest injects a wry note of sadness: the girls don't notice his grand gesture, and the reader is left nonplussed by what it will mean for Sammy's immediate future. He is a young man who sacrifices a decent job and receives nothing tangible in return for the impulsive stand he takes.

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The mood of the story is how the author makes the reader feel.

The mood of John Updike's "A & P" is that of wonder, at first, and later, of sadness and resignation.

Sammy is the name of the narrator of the story. He describes the day when three girls come to the grocery store where he works in their bathing suits. One of the girls he describes as queen-like: in the way she walks, carries herself and turns her head.

This may simply be his perception, but he is as taken with her as any boy his age is taken with a pretty girl: he follows her progress through the store, noticing even how her feet hit the floor as she walks. To him, this unnamed girl is simply amazing.

When the three girls make their way to the front of the store, Sammy is lucky enough to wait on them. After he rings up their purchase, the manager chastises the girls for entering the store in bathing suits instead of regular street clothes.

After the girls leave, Sammy feels he must speak up for them, defend them for some reason, even though they have already left. It is here that the mood begins to change. Sammy defends the girls on principle. The manager, a friend of the family explains the rule, but Sammy cannot and will not listen: he quits on the spot.

Even as he leaves, he knows that he will regret the move. He also knows, somehow in his heart, that things will never be the same for him. He has turned a corner that has taken him from his innocent youth, one step closer to being a man. The deed has been done, which makes him kind of sad, but he is resigned to it, almost as if he knows this is the natural way of things.

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