Analysis of "A&P" by John Updike

Categories: John UpdikeLiterature

Maturity can be defined to as the development of spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and volitional capacity of an individual. The short story “A&P” by John Updike is narrated by Sammy, a nineteen-year-old young man working as a cashier at the local store A&P in New England. Sammy unexpectedly quits his job when three adolescent girls, after entering the store wearing only bathing suits, got reprehended by the store manager. Because of that, Sammy abruptly quit his job not realizing that he would later regret his impulsive and immature decision.

In the story, the author reveals the theme of maturation. John Updike illustrates Sammy as somewhat immature. His personalities seem to stem from his immature attitude. Did not understand what to do here

Updike portrays Sammy as judgmental toward the consumers and co-workers. Sammy constantly refers to the consumers as sheep driving their cart in the aisle, stating that they are foolishly following each other. This passage can be seen when he says, “I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through” (Updike 19).

This quote shows that Sammy did not have a minimum of respect towards the store’s customers, as evidenced by his referencing to customers as animals. Store customers were like sheep for Sammy because they blindly went up and down the aisle and then headed to the checkout counters just as sheep are blindly herded into the chutes to be slaughtered. Sammy views most of the people as lifeless individual that walks inside the market in the same direction.

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This passage shows that he does not like a homogenized society. He enjoys seeing the norms that the society follows being interrupted by peculiar events. Sammy was also discourteous to Stokesie, another one of his coworkers, when he compares his age to his and made a comment in about a personal matter regarding Stokesie. This passage can be seen when he says, “Stokesie’s married, with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already, but as far as I can tell that’s the only difference. He’s twenty-two, and I was nineteen this April” (Updike 20). This rude reference to Stokesie’s clearly shows that Sammy failed to acknowledge the age difference between the two of them. Sammy shows complete lack of respect for the older man’s life experience.

In the story, Sammy also manifests a disrespectful personality. When he encounters a customer or a coworker of older age, Sammy shows his disrespect towards them by claiming that one of the co-workers is a witch. For example, when he mentions that “She’s one of the cash-register-watchers, a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I know it made her day to trip me up” (Updike 19). He was referring to a coworker, who disciplined him for ringing her crackers, as a witch. Sammy’s disdain for his female coworker shows that he had no respect for her. He disliked not only that woman but the store’s customers as well. In the same way, he was discourteous to his coworker, Sammy also create nicknames for the three girls that enter the store. One of the nicknames that he created was Queenie, revealing his immature posture and sexist attitude. This is seen when he says, ‘They keep right on going, into the electric eye; the door flies open and they flicker across the lot to their car, Queenie and Plaid and Big Tall Gonny-Gonny (not that as raw material she was so bad), leaving me with Lengel and a kink in his eyebrow’ (Updike 23). The way that Sammy named the three girls in the store based on his first impression of their physical attributes and actions, shows that he created the names for them in a sexist form. Sammy had a natural tendency to observe and pursue a member of the opposite sex.

Sammy’s immaturity is also evident by his actions. He is portrayed as an unpredictable character who does not think before taking actions. When Sammy saw Lengel talking to the three girls about the dressing policy of the store, Sammy impulsively quits his job while speaking rudely to his boss. It is only after Sammy has quit and openly contradicted Lengel that the readers learn Lengel was a friend of Sammy’s parents for several years. This is shown when Lengel says “Sammy, you don’t want to do this to your Mom and Dad” (Updike 23). Lengel tries to talk Sammy out of the decision, even reminding him of the burden his decision will be for his parents, but Sammy never considers how his actions might affect someone else and simply walks out of the door. Despite the warning by Lengel, Sammy is willing to violate the unwritten agreement he has with his parents. He attempts to become a single autonomous person while being aware that he will disappoint his parents if he decides to quit working. Sammy believes that it is more important to stand up for and impress the girls. His reasons were urged by his own intrinsic senses and the desires of wanting the girls. Most of Sammy’s thoughts relay about three girls that walk into the store. He rapidly gets sexually expressive. This can be seen when he says, ‘With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean it was more than pretty’ (Updike 20). Sammy’s immaturity can be interpreted in this passage by seeing the girls as a sexual object and only describing their physical attribute of the three girls that walked inside the store.

The author uses the experiences of teenagers to show how decisions can affect someone lives and the outcomes that follow. The ‘A&P’ narrates a story of a teenage guy who transitions from adolescence to adulthood. The process of transitions from one stage to another is experienced in someone own’s style and time. Sammy decides to quit his job, he decided to venture into an unknown. Sammy proves to be completely immature in his behaviors and attitudes throughout “A&P.” He makes judgments about people based solely on impression, never considering or realizing that he may be wrong. He shows a lack of respect for his elders, even questioning the experience and maturity of his friends. Sammy’s immaturity culminates in his impulsive actions to quit his job, not thinking that his decision can affect him.

Works Cited

  1. Updike, “A&P” Backpack Literature. 1973. 16 September 2018.

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Analysis of "A&P" by John Updike. (2021, Apr 01). Retrieved from

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