Why do some readers find "A&P" to be offensive and sexist?

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Some readers might find “A&P” to be offensive and sexist because the narrator, Sammy, objectifies the girls who come into the store. Recall how he talks about them at the beginning of the story. He describes them as if they are physical objects:

The one that caught my eye first...

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Some readers might find “A&P” to be offensive and sexist because the narrator, Sammy, objectifies the girls who come into the store. Recall how he talks about them at the beginning of the story. He describes them as if they are physical objects:

The one that caught my eye first was the one in the plaid green two-piece. She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the back of her legs.

Sammy’s focus on the girls’ bodies makes it seem as if their physical appearance is the most important thing about them. In his mind, he calls the girl he finds most attractive “Queenie” because he assumes that she is in charge of the other girls. This assumption suggests the false, sexist idea that girls must be physically attractive to men in order to have power.

Readers also might find the way Sammy’s boss Lengel treats the girls as sexist. He gets mad at the girls for wearing bathing suits in the store and tells them:

Girls, this isn't the beach. ... We want you decently dressed when you come in here. ... After this come in here with your shoulders covered.

Lengel is essentially saying that the girls must adhere to a male definition of decency in order to be accepted in the store. Readers never get to hear the girls’ point of view, and the girls serve merely as an object to showcase Sammy’s limited perspective on the world.

It is worth noting however that his story is an examination of a heterosexual nineteen-year-old boy’s youthful naivety. In exploring the disillusionment of young adulthood, Updike worked to portray the ideas of people this age as accurately as possible. An essay that argues that this story is not sexist would likely focus on why Updike included chauvinistic commentary.

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