Student Question

In "A&P," what does Queenie's bathing suit symbolize?

Quick answer:

Queenie's entrance in a bathing suit, along with the other girls, represents an act of rebellion or freedom.

Expert Answers

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In John Updike's "A & P," Queenie and the other girls's intrusion into the grocery store attired in only bathing suits causes quite a stir among customers and mangerial staff alike within the 1950s setting.  That the girls have not covered themselves with  beach robes or other cover-ups seems unusual, not to mention intentional.  Queenie's entrance, especially, represents an act of rebellion.  Described by Sammy as stepping deliberately in her bare feet,

putting down her heels and then letting the weight move along to her toes as if she was testing the floor with every step, putting a little deliberate extra actioninto it. You never know for sure how girls' minds work....but you got the idea she had talked the other two into coming in here with her, and now she was showing them how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight.

In her attempts to appear seductive, and tease any of the men, Queenie's straps to her suit are off the shoulder "looped loose over the cool top of her arms."  Clearly, Sammy ogles her with desire as he remarks, "...I mean, it was more than pretty."

When the manager, Lengel, approaches the girls and tells them "Girls, this isn't the beach," Queenie blushes, revealing her embarrassment at her charade.  Her voice, too, betrays her, sounding "flat and dumb yet kind of tony, too" and she makes excuses, saying "We weren't doing any shopping. We just came in for one thing." Clearly, Queenie small act of bravado has failed, perhaps presaging Sammy's act of rebellion which finds him outside with the apprehension,

I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.

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