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In "A & P," what does Updike say about supermarket society?

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Updike's word choice in his short story "A & P" suggests a cynical and critical view of a consumer society in which people have been conditioned to conform in various ways. 

From the beginning, Updike paints a picture of a detached society in which people are objectified rather than respected as individuals. Consider the following quote: 

The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle— the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one-way signs or anything)— were pretty hilarious. 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. I bet you could set off dynamite in an A & P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists and muttering "Let me see, there was a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce!" or whatever it is they do mutter. But there was no doubt, this jiggled them. A few house-slaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct.

The narrator refers to the customers as "sheep." Sheep are known to be an animal that prefers to stay with the flock. They are dependent on each other for safety and usually dependent on a leader for direction (in the form of a shepherd). Comparing the customers to sheep, he is implying they all stay together, do the same things, are not independent, and look to a leader for direction. 

He also makes a comment in this paragraph that the girls are not only in bathing suits—which breaks the code of conduct everyone else adheres to—they are also walking the wrong direction. There are no signs posted that say people cannot walk in the direction the girls are walking, but the "sheep" would never go against the flock; that would be nonconformity. The sheep all know the unspoken rules, though the three girls do not seem to understand them. The narrator notes that seeing the girls in their seemingly inappropriate attire rattles the sheep.

The narrator also refers to the customers as types rather than individuals. He calls them "house-slaves" in curlers, rather than housewives. This again insinuates that they are not independent individuals capable of thinking for themselves or going against the grain of society. 

Lengel functions as the "shepherd" in this story. He is the one who enforces the rule and guides the sheep. This makes the sheep feel safe. However, Sammy notices that it makes the young girls feel ashamed and embarrassed. At that point, he chooses to break away from the "flock" and defend the honor of the girls, who were not doing anything wrong in Sammy's mind. He knows that by choosing this path, his life will be more difficult. This is likely because no one in his life will understand why he takes a stand against what he sees as an injustice because the "sheep" would never see it as an injustice. They expect others to follow the code of conduct that is dictated by society.

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Updike is sharply critical of supermarket society, and this criticism is expressed through the voice of his narrator in "A & P," Sammy, who sees the way that Lengel, his boss, treats the girls who have the courage to walk into the supermarket in their bathing costumes as being repressive and unfair. Sammy describes the people in the supermarket variously as being "sheep" and "houseslaves," highlighting the way in which society demands conformity and suppresses individuality. This is of course the role that Lengel fulfills when he challenges the girls and tells them they must not enter the supermarket in their bathing costumes again. The story ends with Sammy's realisation about how hard life is going to be for him now that he has left his job:

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

Sammy has taken a stand against "policy" and the conformity that supermarket society instills in society. However, although in one sense he is pleased with the stand he has taken, he also recognises that the very act of making that stand is going to make life harder and more challenging for him, as he is going against the flow and standing out from the norm. Updike therefore presents supermarket society in a very negative light through the various images associated with other characters and the way that Lengel describes his humiliating treatment of the girls as being just following "policy." In supermarket society, Updike seems to suggest, there is no place for individuality and spontaneity, and humans are expected to act like the sheep Sammy describes the shoppers as being in the store.

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What comment does Updike, through Sammy, make about "supermarket" society in this story?

This is an interesting query because Sammy is very much a part of the supermarket society in question; however, he does not consider himself a part of it. Sammy very much has an "us versus them" mentality about his presence in the supermarket. He thinks that he is better than the customers, as well as his boss. Sammy repeatedly characterizes the standard shoppers as dumb beasts. The second paragraph already shows this attitude through Sammy saying that he had to smooth over the customer's feathers; she walks away with a snort. The "feathers" comment paints the customer like an annoying bird, and the "snort" likens her to a wallowing pig. Sammy's view of his customers degenerates from there, and readers see him repeatedly refer to the shoppers as sheep, which are a stereotypically dumb animal. The "sheep" are then unable to figure out how to act, where to go, and how to behave once Queenie and her friends show up in their eye-catching attire.

All this while, the customers had been showing up with their carts but, you know, sheep, seeing a scene, they had all bunched up on Stokesie.

The supermarket society is essentially comprised of beastly people, living lives that are so monotonous and boring that three girls in bathing suits can disrupt the entire flow and rhythm of a standard shopping trip.

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What comment does Updike, through Sammy, make about "supermarket" society in this story?

Sammy sees his typical A&P supermarket society as made up of everyday town locals, especially women, who live uninteresting, unglamorous lives. As he puts it:

these are usually women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs

Sammy understands the shoppers as primarily working-class people like his family. He draws a contrast between them and the summer vacationers who come to the Point, which is five miles away on the beach. When Queenie and her girlfriends come into the store, they represent to him all the glamour and money of the Point that a typical A&P shopper does not exude. Sammy describes, for example, Queenie's voice as "tony," and it causes him to imagine that:

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 ...

Sammy is so impressed with these girls and so upset when his manager comments on their inappropriate attire that he quits, even though his family needs the money. Through Sammy, Updike makes the comment that supermarket society is down-to-earth, rule-based, and the working class. Sammy aspires to more—whether he is living in fantasyland or not is left an open question.

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What comment does Updike, through Sammy, make about "supermarket" society in this story?

While he works at the A&P (the largest chain of grocery stores from 1915 through 1975), Sammy perceives the customers as "houseslaves in pin curls" with varicose veins that "map" their legs. He also sees them as "sheep" distractedly pushing their shopping carts down the aisles.

These women are dehumanized because of their repetitive and mindless routines. In fact, Sammy imagines them as animals. Two customers, for example, are likened by Sammy to frightened pigs in a slaughter chute as they vie for first place in the checkout line. So, when the young girls enter the store in their swimsuits, Sammy perceives them as a refreshing change from the usual customers. To Sammy, these girls are independent and vibrant.

When the manager of the store and Sammy's boss, Mr. Lengel, accosts the three girls in their swimsuits, telling them that they must leave the store because they are in improper attire, Sammy envisions Mr. Lengel as a representative of "The Establishment." Further, after listening to Lengel lecture the girls about proper attire, Sammy decides to quit in a rejection of the "stuffy" values of the management and as a gallant act in order to impress the girls. Unfortunately for Sammy, his gesture goes unnoticed by these girls, and he stands outside realizing "how hard the world was going to be [for him] hereafter."

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What comment does Updike, through Sammy, make about "supermarket" society in this story?

I would add that Sammy also longs for that beautiful white body of the "Queen" who walks into the store.  She represents a class to which he doesn't and won't ever belong (even after he quits his job).  She buys the Fancy Herring Snacks while his family drinks "Schlitz in tall glasses with "They'll do it every time" cartoons stencilled on." But she also can break the rules with a certain audacity, and just as Sammy admires her confrontation with the "sheep" in the store, so does Updike, I think. He doesn't criticize them so much as, with Sammy, mourn and criticize the fact that such a gap exists, one which Sammy will not cross ove. Perhaps they are a representation of The American Dream (often embodied in American literature through wealthy, beautiful women) that the ordinary guy just cannot obtain.

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What comment does Updike, through Sammy, make about "supermarket" society in this story?

Well, one is the disparity between the vacationing, monied class to which Queenie and her entourage belong and to the resident, working class to which Sammy is a member.  Sammy longs to not suffer the same stagnant fate of his co-workers and to be accepted by the outsiders.  The supermarkert, therefore, might be seen as a metaphor for those who must stock societies "shelves" and those who enjoy its spoils. 

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