A&P Short Story Summary

“The A&P” is a short story by John Updike. It tells the story of a young man, Sammy, who works in an A&P grocery store. One day, three young women come into the store wearing nothing but bathing suits. Sammy is fascinated by them and decides to “rescue” them from the store manager. He quits his job and follows them out of the store.

The story ends with Sammy realizing that he has made a mistake and that he will never see the women again. He feels regret for what he has done, but also a sense of freedom and liberation. “The A&P” is a story about coming of age and making choices that will have consequences.

In John Updike’s short story “A&P” (1971), Sammy, a young A&P cashier, is the protagonist who has immature, coarse fantasies of three young ladies that enter the store in bikinis and lead him to a rash flight from his career and a sense of his proper station in society.

Sammy is an uneducated, working-class teenager who condescendingly looks down on his customers and fantasizes about their lives outside of the A&P. In particular, he ogles three young girls in their bathing suits who enter the store.

Sammy daydreams about being with them and imagines what their lives might be like outside of the A&P. When the girls are confronted by the store manager for not wearing appropriate clothing, Sammy impulsively quits his job in order to defend their honor.

However, after leaving the store, Sammy realizes that he has made a mistake and that he does not actually know the girls. He also realizes that he does not have the courage to stand up to authority figures and that he is content with his place in society. Sammy’s flight from the A&P is thus a foolish and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to escape his own limitations.

The first-person narrator, a young man named Sammy, enters adulthood as he considers his path. In the opening line, “In comes these three females with nothing but bikinis on (Updike 1), Updike’s implemental language and informal syntax push the first-person viewpoint to that of a younger guy.

This perspective has the narrative in terms of a teenager growing up, which enhances the realism of the tale by presenting Sammy’s thoughts before any of them are transformed into deadly acts later on down the road.

Sammy is working as a cashier in an A&P grocery store when he notices three teenage girls, wearing only their bathing suits, enter the store. Sammy is fascinated by the girls and begins to follow them around the store, making comments about their physical appearance to the other cashiers. The girls eventually realize that they are being followed and confront Sammy. One of the girls, wearing a black bikini, berates Sammy for his actions. The girl then asks Sammy if he will help them carry their groceries to their car.

After helping the girls with their groceries, Sammy returns to work and quits his job in protest of the A&P’s policies. Sammy’s decision to quit his job is a rash one, made in the heat of the moment, and he does not think about the consequences of his actions until after he has already quit. Sammy’s impulsiveness is a result of his youth and inexperience, and he learns from his mistake by the end of the story.

As the first paragraph relates, Sammy and a regular client have a transaction, during which Updike notes how. “She’d been watching cash registers for forty years and probably never made a mistake before,” he says of her scanning her crackers twice (Updike 1). “They would have burned her in Salem…” (Updike 1) In reference to her resemblance to a witch, these lines appear to project an extremely unfavorable image of Sammy towards his work as well as possibly implying some pride.

Sammy goes on in the next paragraph to describe three girls who had just walked into the A&P, in bikinis no less. This is done with great detail in order to set up the climax of the story which will be Sammy quitting his job. The girls are walking around and looking at things and generally just being disruptive but not really doing anything wrong as such.

It’s Sammy’s own perception that creates the problem, or so it seems. Sammy is entranced by the girls and ends up staring at them for too long, almost getting caught a few times. His boss, Lengel, eventually notices and comes over to talk to him. Lengel scolds him in front of the girls and they eventually leave, with Sammy quitting his job on the spot.

The story concludes with Sammy outside of the A&P, standing around and wondering what to do next. He feels like he’s done something great but also realizes that he doesn’t have a job anymore and isn’t sure what his future holds. It’s a bit of a ambiguous ending but it seems like Sammy has come to some sort of realization about himself and his place in the world. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing is up to interpretation.

“As he goes through the store, Sam instantly objectifies Queenie as she passes by and expresses his views on women by stating, ‘…how does a woman’s mind work (do you truly believe it’s a mind in there or simply a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?)’” (Updike 1) This demonstrates how, even after admiring Queenie, Sammy continues to be stuck in his arrogance this time putting himself higher than all ladies and extending his self-declared social height.

Sammy’s coworker Lengel scolds the girls for not being dressed properly in the A&P and this is when Sammy decides to put himself at a higher social level than Lengel by quitting his job in order to defend the girls. By doing this, Sammy also believes he is defending Queenie which gives more reasoning as to why he would go out of his way to do something so drastic. This section of the story has helped build suspense as well as giving clues as to what Sammy’s intentions may be.

The girls continue shopping while Sammy checks them out and begins to think of ways to talk to Queenie, but he never works up the courage. Instead, he continues ogling her from afar and making mental notes of her every move. Queenie and her friends eventually finish their shopping and start to leave the store, but not before Queenie grabs a package of gum off the shelf. Sammy sees this as his opportunity to finally talk to Queenie, but instead he lets her leave without saying a word.

Queenie and her friends walk out of the store, with Sammy right behind them. He follows them to the beach, where they take their clothes off and go swimming in the nude. Sammy watches them for a moment before returning to the A&P.

When Sammy returns to the A&P, Lengel is waiting for him. Lengel confronts Sammy about quitting his job and lectures him about how he should have handled the situation with the girls. Sammy doesn’t say a word in response and simply walks out of the store.

In the end, Sammy has learned a lesson about life and growing up. He was attracted to Queenie and her friends because they represented something new and exciting, but he ultimately realized that they were not worth sacrificing his job for. This story speaks to the theme of coming of age, as Sammy learns that there is more to life than just chasing girls and having fun.

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