Short stories are significantly shorter and less elaborate than a novel, but it has a fully developed theme with the intent of evoking a mood. The main character is Sammy, in John Updike’s short story. The first-person context gives the reader a unique insight into the main character’s feelings and choices, as well as the reasons for the choices. The reader is allowed to closely observe Sammy’s observations and the first impressions of the three girls who come to the grocery store on a summer afternoon in the early 1960s.
For the reader to understand this short story, one must recognize the era, the age of the main character, and the temptation Sammy faces. As you read the story you become acquainted with Sammy’s opinions and ideas, it then becomes obvious that he is ready for a change. John Updike’s short story, “A&P,” holds heavy value as a “work of art.”
First and foremost, there are specific elements of a “work of art” that stand out to me.
Today individuals encompass many moral aspects that would not have been socially acceptable fifty or more years ago. In the grocery store today, individuals wear garments that vary from professional attire to lingerie and bedroom slippers wandering through the produce section. These are considered normal today, as in the 1960s this was ridiculous. Furthermore, there is a side of the culture where individuals are rebellious towards others and have an attitude similar to that of Sammy toward his boss.
Continuing this line of reasoning, the short story has a great amount of depth. It has a young man’s struggle with morality, authority, and freedom. The girls that entered the A&P represented Sammy’s longing for freedom, wandering imagination, and desire for a change in his mundane daily activities. Sammy quitting his job was him taking a stand against authority whether justified or not because he did not like his meaningless job and wished for freedom from the A&P and his manager. He wants to improve his quality of life and not end up working his whole life there. The quality of life he sees in the girls wearing bathing suits that walked into the store was that of luxury and riches. The store he worked at was dull and monotonous, and he did not want to end up like his store manager Lengel, who was telling the girls they cannot wear bathing suits to the A&P. Therefore, the wording of the short story has many depth and meaning behind it.
Further support for this thesis is the symbolism the short story provides. Age, physical characteristics, and dress are not the only differences that Sammy notices between the girls and the regular customers. The girls walk the store aisles against the usual traffic pattern and the regular customers find that disconcerting. This symbolizes that the girls do not follow the social conventions of the town. Picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate in Sammy’s mind symbolizes living the good life. Moreover, Sammy also saw his future foreshadowed if he had kept his job. He would have been in the same situation as Stokesie, married with babies at the age of twenty-two. Additionally, the author purposefully does not give his characters names in the traditional sense, rather, he has Sammy assign appropriate “names” according to the character’s actions. For instance, the leader in the group of girls, as Sammy names her “Queenie, ” was the epitome of seduction. Thus, John Updike’s short story has numerous instances of symbolism.
It is in these ways that John Updike’s short story, “A&P,” holds heavy value as a “work of art.” Every work of art has meaning behind it, readers just have to stop and think about it. In “A&P” there are elements such as fashion trends and how individuals acted in the 1960s that stood out to Sammy. The authority, morality, and freedom of the characters are mentioned through their emotions and way of thinking. Symbolism is also mentioned in the story. For instance, the specific way the girls acted represented something about them and the name Sammy gave them.