’s Short Story A&P Essay, Research Paper
John Updike once said, “Man lacks grace because he has retreated from responsibility into sensuality.” Sammy, the protagonist in Updike’s short story, “A&P”, is a perfect literary representation of this quote. During the course of “A&P”, he runs from every responsibility he has, just to make himself feel better. He gets distracted from his duties at work and makes mistakes because he is busy gawking at some girls, and he ultimately quits those duties simply to try to impress those girls. Even though Sammy is nineteen, he is not mature enough to hold to his own responsibilities. Rather, he runs from them to retreat into his own sensuality.
“In walks three girls in nothing but bathing suits”(Kennedy 13). This is how the story “A&P”, and subsequently, Sammy’s shirking of his duties begins. The usual customers at the store where Sammy works are “sheep”(Kennedy14); they are old, dull people that would not cause a distraction for a nineteen year-old boy. These girls, however, are something new in Sammy’s work routine. Throughout the entire story, Sammy is focused on these girls. When they enter, he begins to describe one, “She was a chunky kid…”(Kennedy 13). As they walk through the store, he notices miniscule details about the girls and even makes generalizations on what their personalities are like. “There was this tall one…the kind of girl others think is very ‘striking’ and ‘attractive’…and then the third one…She was the queen…but you got the idea that she had talked the other two into coming in here with her”(Kennedy 13). He watches them walk “against the usual traffic”(Kennedy 14), and wonders why they are at the A&P, because “it’s not as if we’re on the cape”(Kennedy 14). When finally the girls stroll over to the checkout counter, he is distracted ten fold more than before. “Now her hands are empty…and I wonder where the money’s coming from. Still with that prim look she lifts a folded dollar bill out of the hollow center of her nubbled pink top. The jar went heavy in my hand” (Kennedy 15).
All through this story, Sammy follows these girls, pondering over their persons and personalities, when, all the while, he is supposed to be concentrating on his job. He is standing behind a cash register in the A&P, a grocery store. He is not there to gawk at people walking through; he is there to make sure that the customers coming through are served to the best of his ability. However, the second that something appealing walks through the door, Sammy forgets his responsibilities and begins to retreat into the sensual. When the girls first walk in, he is supposed to be checking out a customer, but is distracted by a “sweet, broad, soft-looking can”(Kennedy 13). As a result, he rings up a box of HiHo Crackers twice, and the “witch” who brought the crackers up the aisle begins to argue and yell at Sammy. Instead of simply admitting his small mistake, he insults the woman, inferring that “it made her day to trip me up. She’d been watching cash registers for 50 years and probably never seen a mistake before”(Kennedy 13). All the while that Sammy was watching and thinking about the girls, he could have been doing something productive. Instead, he waits until the girls come to check out to do anything having to do with the store again.
When the girls walk up to his register, Sammy is definitely still distracted. He fumbles around with the one jar of “Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream”(Kennedy 15) and the dollar bill that Queenie hands him. Unfortunately, Mr. Lengel, the Manager, walks in at the same time that the girls are checking out. He walks over and announces to them, “Girls, this isn’t the beach”(Kennedy 15). Queenie begins to protest, but Mr. Lengel keeps on, “giving the girls that sad Sunday-school-superintendent stare.” Even through this, Sammy is distracted by the girls. When Queenie speaks, Sammy “slid right down her voice into her living room”(Kennedy 15). He begins to picture her family waiting for the herring snacks, all the while Mr. Lengel reprimanding the girls for not being “decently dressed.” When Mr. Lengel finally lets the girls go, Sammy says “I quit’ to Lengel, quick enough for them to hear, hoping they’ll stop and watch”(Kennedy 16). Even after the girls leave the store, Sammy’s mind is still on them. “You didn’t have to embarrass them”(Kennedy 16), he says to his manager. His physical distractions are gone, and he still continues to live for what feels good to him.
This entire story focuses on how Sammy fits the quote that began this essay. Every move he makes throughout the story is a retreat from responsibility into sensuality; what makes him feel good. He does not take one responsibility seriously after the girls walk in to the A&P where he works. Rather, he only does things that make him feel good. Staring at the girls, wondering about their lives, quitting his job: all of these things he did because it felt good. It felt great to watch those bathing suits meander through “the cool of the A&P”(Kennedy 14). It was pleasurable to daydream about their personalities and lives. Certainly it was self-empowering to say the words “I quit”(Kennedy 16). The girls’ “unsuspecting hero”(Kennedy 16). Sadly, Sammy’s few minutes of pleasure land him on the street, looking for the girls, and searching for what to do next.