A&P, John Updike’s story of a “courageous” grocery clerk, is one of Updike’s most popular stories perhaps because it is, at first glance a simple read, but further readings show how the author is able to create a dynamic story that involves figuring out what certain parts of the story may mean. For example, focusing on the ending, when Sammy punches the “No Sale” tab as he remembers how Lengel “made the pretty girl blush” (Updike 564), we can see how this “No Sale” extends itself not just to its uses on the cash register, but also within the story; it acts as a literary symbol within the text.
First, we find how there is “no sale” between the store manager, Lengel, and the girls. They, might, perhaps belong to a different class, a class “from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy” (Updike 563), but Lengel does not let that get in the way of his reminding the girls of propriety and decency. Lengel does not indulge in the idea that, because the girls are attractive and might be better-off, he should let them off easy or that he should just let them be.
Besides this, the girls’ obliviousness to Sammy’s affected act of “gallantry” is also telling of how there is “no sale” between him and them. The girls are too preoccupied with getting out of the store and are also rather indifferent to their surroundings and, thus, cannot appreciate nor acknowledge would-be heroics for their benefit. Then, we have a “no sale” between Sammy and his act of quitting itself. After realizing that the girls are nowhere to be found and have missed his heroics, he acknowledges Lengel’s remark of him not really wanting to push through with quitting as true.
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He realizes that he will regret this act sometime in the future, but continues to push through with it just because of momentum (and probably to save face). Finally, the “no sale” agenda is something that has been going on between the reader and Sammy himself. The reader, because he or she is privy to Sammy’s initial thoughts about the girls, knows that his act of quitting is something that is actually quite pretentious and somewhat insincere.
Perhaps, he did feel a little indignant at Lengel for gently reprimanding his Queenie and her friends, but all-in-all his act was done in order to call the girls’ attention onto his self and not really to uphold their rights or their dignity, and because the reader knows this, that “no sale” feeling is created.
Updike, John. “A&P”. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature Eighth Edition. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin, 2009. 560-564.