A few elements help generate a story. Things like: the characters, the plot, the conflict, the resolution, and the setting. Back when we were first introduced to the elements of a story, the setting was simply taught as the time and the place where the story takes place. However, now that we’ve advanced into higher education, we’re also now expanding on that idea. The elementary definition of setting still stands true, but now the small and specific details like the weather and surroundings are also included.
All the factors that fall under the setting affect the story in their way. The setting could be viewed as another character that helps the story flow and makes sense. The short story “A&P” by John Updike was about a boy named Sammy who seemed to hate his life as a supermarket employee, and how these three girls disrupted his dull routine. The disruption made Sammy realize how boring his actual life was and decided to make a change.
The story exhibits how much the setting affects the story as a whole. The era when the story took place explained why the manager lost it when he saw the girls in bikinis, it also provided some clues that hinted to the reader how the characters may be feeling, and it also helped set the story’s mood. The setting of the story played a big role the story and it wouldn’t have made sense if it was set up differently.
The short story “A&P” by Updike was set up in the middle of a town north of Boston, and the store was also located five miles away from the nearest beach. It was summer as stated by Sammy when he quit his job “One advantage to this scene taking place in summer, I can follow this up with a clean exit,” (Updike 193). “A&P” was written back in 1961. With that being said, it can be presumed that this story was written before that time, around the 50s and 60s. This presumption can also be made because Sammy stated that “Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream: 49¢.” (Updike 191). Updike couldn’t have set this story for the future since nothing in a supermarket today can be bought for fifty cents. This is how “A&P” was set by Updike, and each one of these things had a substantial contribution to the story.
The presumption of the era when the story took place explains why the three girls in the bikini startled and deranged everyone in the store. According to the article “A Brief History of Women’s Clothing” by Tim Lambert, the bikini was invented in 1946. This shows how women’s fashion was evolving, but it was still conservative. The article “Women’s Clothing” by the University of Vermont states that “This new style embraced femininity, with rounded shoulders, shapely bust lines, closely-defined waistlines, slightly padded skirts, and full, billowing skirts that hung just below the calves.” (uvm.edu “Women’s Clothing”). The acceptable outfits for women were evolving as the bikini and the curvier blouses were introduced. However, women’s fashion was still fairly conservative with the use of long skirts that hung below women’s calves. The three girls stood out like a sore thumb because they were not conforming to the social norm of that time. Bikinis were accepted, but the idea was fairly new and they were only expected to be only worn around beaches and pools. The era where the story took place helped paint the picture of why the girls caused attention and were reprimanded by the store manager. If Updike set this story up during the 21st century, the story wouldn’t have made sense. Being half naked in public areas without a beach nearby is acceptable now. Even though a lot of elderlies don’t agree with the idea of being half naked, it’s the social norm now.
The choice of using the supermarket as the story’s location helps the reader get a look into the character’s emotions. The dullness of the supermarket and the repetitiveness of the job are reflected in the characters. Sammy stated that “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.” (Updike 190). The fact that Sammy knew the items that belonged in that specific aisle showed how repetitive the job got that he knows the smallest details about each aisle. On the same page, Sammy also mentioned how dead the store was. All that he was doing was leaning on the register waiting for the three girls to come. Sammy also stated that “it’s more complicated than you think, and after you do it often enough, it begins to make a little song,” (Updike 192). Sammy was talking about ringing up customers. His job became a routine, so much so that he had formed a song that helps him ring up customers more efficiently. Sammy eventually realized that the supermarket was becoming his life. He didn’t want the repetitive and monotonous life he was starting to have. He realized that and quit his job right on the spot. The supermarket set affected Sammy negatively, and it caused him to act on it for the betterment of his life.
The setting also helped set the story’s mood. The story’s mood was serious with a little bit of humor. The setting helped set the mood by using a supermarket with a very simplistic interior as described by Shammy while staring at one of the girls “the fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages, with her feet paddling along naked over our checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor.” (Updike 190). The mood was set to be serious because the supermarket was all about business. No fancy decorations and styling. This was also revealed when Shammy revealed that he had made a song about ringing customers up “ ‘Hello (bing) there, you (gung) hap-py pee-pul (splat)’-the splat being the drawer flying out.” (Updike 192). The store’s policy on dress codes also implied that they’re strictly about business. They require customers to dress appropriately, even though they made an exception for the three girls. The store’s patrons also helped set the serious mood. Shammy called them the sheep. This might bleed into another element of a story, the characters. However, with the supermarket being the location of the story, it allowed the author to use the sheep as symbols for people who just follow the herd. The little bits of humor were injected throughout the story by the narrator, Sammy. The setting did not imply or use any humor to help set the story’s mood. The author’s tone is usually the element of a story that sets the mood up for the reader, but in this story, the setting played a role in setting the serious mood that the story possesses.
A story’s setting can either have a substantial effect on the story. It could help the story have a better flow, and it can even reveal some things about the characters that might need some second reading to help readers realize. However, it could also not have much of an effect on the story. The setting could just be strictly used as the time and location of the story. It could simply be just the backdrop and not help with the plot. In the short story “A&P” by John Updike, the setting played a big role in the storytelling. It carried a substantial amount of clues about what the era in the story could’ve taken place, it also revealed some emotions of the characters that were not directly written by the author, and the setting was also able to help set the mood of the story alongside with the author’s tone.