What details in Updike's A & P stand out as true to life and how do they contribute to the story?

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The third sentence of Updike's story depicts the (closely observed) tan of one of the three girls that walk into the A&P:

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 backs of her legs.

Updike succeeds in creating the kind of true-to-life observation that a teenage boy like Sammy might make when looking at a teenage girl. The imagery is quite detailed and specific, and the precision suggests that Sammy is the kind of kid who doesn't miss much. He also describes the girls' faces, noting that the one he dubs "Queenie" has "a kind of prim face" that is at odds with the provocative look of her bathing suit top with the straps down.

Just in describing the way the girls look, with the color and texture of their hair, their bathing suits, their posture, and their expressions, Updike succeeds in placing readers in the A&P through Sammy's eyes, where the story's action unfolds. The detail adds to the realism of the story and makes the conflict all the more plausible because readers don't have to work hard to visualize what upsets Lengel so much.

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Updike really is a master of sensual description, allowing readers to see, hear, feel, taste and smell the surroundings created in his writing. He studied to be a visual artist which may partly explain his deft style in describing how things look. In this story, one of his most famous, the physical descriptions of the girls and the store are very naturalistic and authentic. The first-person narration is also reliable because it is not hard to imagine this teenage grocery store employee who has memorized the inventory and layout of the store, but who is also bored with his job and becomes excited when something out of the ordinary happens, especially if it involves teenage girls.

One line that describes an aisle the girls walk down says: "they all three of them went up the cat-and-dog-food-breakfast-cereal-macaroni-rice-raisins-seasonings-spreads-spaghetti-soft drinks-crackers-and-cookies aisle." The ease with which he names the items found in this aisle says he is intelligent, observant and has also made an effort to learn his job. But the description also hints at the dull sameness and regimented atmosphere of his job, in which he is expected to memorize the location of items. Anyone who has worked a retail job of this kind can relate to this idea. The store is an oppressive environment and so when he quits impulsively we know he has perhaps been waiting to find the courage to do so.

The narrator also describes what he calls the usual thoughts and behavior of shoppers in a very evocative way: 

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.

His perception of shoppers' thoughts, as well as the way he notices the girls and the way they shake up "business as usual" at the A & P, shows a narrator who is profoundly sensitive and observant. These descriptions ultimately are a very revealing look at the narrator who may well be based upon Updike himself.

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In "A&P," Updike puts together details that create a normal, ordinary grocery store—the setting is supposed to be realistic. What details stand out as true to life? What does paying close attention to the details contribute to the story?

The story was published in 1961, almost sixty years ago. However, many of the details of the A&P show that small-town chain grocery stores have not changed that much over time. Some details that seem true to life are the following:

I'm in the third check-out slot, with my back to the door, so I don't see them until they're over by the bread.

I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers ...

all three of them went up the cat-and-dog-food-breakfast-cereal-macaroni-rice-raisins-seasonings-spreads-spaghetti-soft drinks-crackers-and-cookies aisle

our checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor.

they come around out of the far aisle, around the light bulbs, records at discount of the Caribbean Six or Tony Martin Sings or some such gunk you wonder they waste the wax on, six packs of candy bars, and plastic toys done up in cellophane that fall apart when a kid looks at them anyway.

As I say, we're right in the middle of town, and if you stand at our front doors you can see two banks and the Congregational church and the newspaper store and three real estate offices ...

Paying close attention to the details helps establish this as a small, working class grocery store, not a giant flagship in the A&P chain. For instance, the three girls go up an aisle that holds many different kinds of items that would be separated into different aisles in a larger store, such as pet food, seasonings, pasta, and soft drinks.

Specific details add to our sense of realism, such as the HiHo crackers, the green and white tiled floor, and the records by the Caribbean Six. Simply mentioning "crackers," "tiled floors," or "records" would not place the reader as vividly in the scene as the specifics do. The details reinforce the idea that overall the store is a little bit cheesy and discount-like, making Queenie's choice of nothing but a jar of herrings, an upper-class purchase, stand out all the more. By providing all these details, Updike shows us the class difference between Sammy and Queenie—he doesn't then have to explain it to us.

The fact, too, that the details of the store are all visual adds to the idea that the A&P is simply a slightly tacky backdrop to a bigger drama that rivets Sammy. The ordinary, down-market details also contrast with the glamorous details of the life Sammy imagines for Queenie's family. These hum-drum details help us to understand why Sammy might want to escape this life and aspire for more—even though, as he acknowledges, he chooses a harder road when he quits.

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In "A&P," Updike puts together details that create a normal, ordinary grocery store—the setting is supposed to be realistic. What details stand out as true to life? What does paying close attention to the details contribute to the story?

The mundane details of a suburban grocery store create a realistic setting for "A&P." Sammy explains something of the store's geography. He is in the third checkout slot, with his back to the door, hence he does not see the girls at first, until they're "over by the bread." The products sold in the store are described precisely, often with brand names and even prices: "Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream: 49 cents." Sammy also talks about the process of ringing up purchases at the till in some detail, saying that the sounds accompanying the process eventually "make a little song, that you hear words to." These are exactly the type of details that one would notice after spending hours every day standing in the same place and repeating the same tasks.

Paying close attention to such details increases the verisimilitude of the story, making the incongruous dress of the girls and Sammy's sudden departure from the store more dramatic. These are both rare events, but they are not so rare as to seem unrealistic. Indeed, they are the type of events that may occur a few times in an average lifetime and about which people tell stories. Ask anyone about their strangest day at work, and you may hear a story like Sammy's. The scrupulous realism of the detail makes the story authentic and believable.

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