What was your first reactions after reading "A&P"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The short story "A&P" by John Updike is narrated by Sammy, a 19-year-old young man who works at an A&P grocery store checkout counter. He is on the job one day when three young women clad only in bathing suits enter the store. He watches them as they proceed through the aisles, assessing their appearances and appreciating their scantily-clad shapes. He is especially impressed by the girl he nicknames Queenie, who seems to be the leader of the group. Sammy figures he has become lucky when the girls choose to come to his checkout stand to pay for their jar of herring snacks.

However, the situation goes awry when the manager, a stuffy man named Lengel, shows up. He accosts the girls and criticizes them for not dressing modestly enough. This embarrasses Queenie, and she blushes. As the girls leave, Sammy quits in protest to what he sees as ill-treatment of the girls. Lengel tries to get him to reconsider, but Sammy is adamant and walks out of the store. Unfortunately, by the time he reaches the parking lot, the girls have already left.

The first impression you have of this story probably depends on who you are and your background. Based on your similarity to the main characters, you might have one of three possible reactions.

If you are a young man, you might sympathize with Sammy. He is 19 years old, and he has begun to be interested in women. He finds the girls attractive and likes the distraction they have given him from his boring job. In the end, when he quits his job, he probably figures that it was a heroic act, a deed of chivalry, and he is disappointed when the girls have left without acknowledging it. As he realizes his good deed was in vain, he says that "my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter."

On the other hand, if you are a young woman, you might sympathize with the girls and be put off by Sammy's blatantly physical description of the bathing suit-clad bodies. You might wish that men would not be so quick to objectify the female form. You might be especially annoyed by the manager's strict and uptight reaction to the casual wearing of swimsuits in his store.

If you are an adult in a position of responsibility like Lengel, you might see the swimsuits that the girls are wearing as out of place in a public venue such as a grocery store. You might wish that young people would be more responsible. You would be disappointed in Sammy too for his irresponsible choice to quit his job on a whim.

In conclusion, we see that your first reactions to this story will depend upon your age, gender, and background.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After reading John Updike's celebrated short story "A&P," one cannot help but feel sorry and embarrassed for the protagonist. Sammy is portrayed as a disgruntled, naive teenager who is fed up with his mundane job at the local A&P and spends a significant amount of time at work fantasizing and judging customers. Sammy has a rather sarcastic sense of human as well as an active imagination.

After Sammy daydreams about Queenie, Lengel embarrasses the girls by commenting on their indecent attire, and Sammy attempts to come to their defense by quitting in front of them. Tragically, Sammy's chivalric gesture goes unnoticed, and the girls walk out of the store without acknowledging him. Although Lengel gives Sammy a chance to reconsider his actions, Sammy decides to quit because "once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it" (Updike, 3). As Sammy is standing alone outside in the parking lot, the audience cannot help but sympathize with his character when he recognizes "how hard the world was going to be."

The audience feels sorry for Sammy and can relate to his loss of innocence. As a naive teenager, Sammy believes in chivalry and possesses romantic ideals of how the universe works. He fully expected the girls to notice his gesture and express their gratitude for his valiant action. He even hoped to form a relationship with Queenie and to experience her privileged lifestyle. However, Sammy experiences the harsh realities of life and the fact that most people are too self-involved and busy to notice others.

Audiences can also relate to the upsetting feeling of unrequited admiration. Sammy possessed certain ideas about Queenie, who more than likely did not even know he existed. Additionally, Sammy is at the mercy of his callous, strict boss, who takes his job too seriously. Most readers can relate to being under the rule of a strict, insensitive boss. The complex emotions Sammy experiences and his futile gesture garner sympathy, and the audience pities him. One's initial impression of the story typically concerns the realistic portrayal of Sammy's eye-opening experience and a sense of sympathy for the protagonist.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I felt sympathy for Sammy's yearning desire for a broader and deeper life than he has an A&P cashier. However, I did feel uncomfortable for him as a person living inside his own head and projecting his own desires onto three young women he really knew nothing about.

When Queenie and her companions come into the A&P in their bathing suits, seemingly oblivious to the store dress code, Sammy creates an entire backstory for Queenie based on his own desires for a more glamorous life. But for all we know, she and her family could be renting a very modest beach bungalow—we simply don't know her story. It is sad that Sammy never gets to talk to her and hear from her what her background is.

The story also struck me as anachronistic, by which I mean it reflected another time and place that feels very different from my own. Today there would be little worry about bathing suits in a supermarket, and, at least to my mind, the sense of class division seems less (though we may be returning to that world).

From a feminist perspective, the story also seemed anachronistic to me. The girls are presented as very self-assured, but we never get to hear them tell their stories or see the world through their eyes. I would love to hear their private thoughts about what occurred in the A&P.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

First, I think that this question needs to be moved to the Discussion board. I am sure you will receive many different initial reactions to Updike's story there.

I must say that my first reaction to the story A&P is one of sadness. Sammy most certainly wanted the girls to understand the importance, and symbolism of his quitting, but their quick exit from the store, paired with their embarrassment, keeps them from noticing.

I have to admit that my sadness comes from the fact that Sammy thought he was doing the right thing. Unfortunately, Sammy's actions went unnoticed (a common thing in today's society). People today are simply in too much of a rush to notice the things others do for them. At the same time, I feel embarrassed for Sammy. I feel like he was not given any reason to quit (simply based upon the fact that the girls were berated and not him).

In the end, A small piece of me remembers that chivalry is not dead. Unfortunately, chivalry is not noticed either.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial