Life Lessons Sammy Learned in John Updike's Short Story

A single event can forever change a person's life. In the short story "A&P," by John Updike, a young boy named Sammy has his life forever changed during what begins as a normal day at his job at an A&P grocery store. For the first time, Sammy witnesses, and is eventually initiated into, a world of complete freedom, where one can choose their own path rather than follow the path already laid. Everyone at some point in their lives encounter similar situations.

Sammy learns that his choice to take freedom will not only effect the life he currently leads, but will also have profound influences over the life he will eventually have. Sammy's current life revolves around going to work at the local A&P in his East Coast town. Luckily for Sammy, his life does not remain monotonous for long. His life begins to change forever as "three girls in nothing but bathing suits" lead by a girl who Sammy refers to as "Queenie" walk into the A & P.

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Sammy has never witnessed such freedom. It is in these girls that Sammy sees the freedom his life is missing.

This truly is an unprecedented event for Sammy's quiet little town where "women generally put on a shirt or shoes" before entering the A&P and even then they are generally "women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs" Queenie has a distinct advantage over Sammy and the rest of the town which allows her to act so freely, specifically money.

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Regardless of Queenie's economic situation, the negative reaction of the town to the girl's sense of freedom will be enough to give Sammy the reason to change his life. The girls are suddenly threatened by Lengel, the store's manager who tells Queenie "this isn't the beach." As Sammy watches Lengel challenge Queenie it is as though he is seeing freedom itself being challenged. Sammy does the only thing he can; he quits, hoping to be "[the girls] unsuspected hero." Through a single action, Sammy has made certain his future will not be the future of conformity his community had destined for him.

The repercussions of Sammy's actions are, however, far beyond what he had perceived. Immediately after quitting Sammy "[feels] how hard the world [is] going to be to [him] hereafter." Sammy learns he has the freedom to make his own decisions but he will also have to live with the consequences of those decisions. I can relate to the lesson Sammy learned because while in high school i was forced to make a life altering decision. I grew up in a small town, where everyone seemed to get along. Over the years my area began to grow dramatically, and over the years it became very diverse. The area grew so fast that people didn't know how to deal with the facts of life- of adjusting to other people's cultures. There were many segregated groups of students. The student body would go around school pre-judging other people and there cultures. It made it very hard for me because my parents raised me to like everyone individually.

Because of the area I grew up in, I had a very diverse group of friends, and the remarks that I had to deal with through high school were tough. I had the choice to attend a nearby school that was much less diverse but with students I would be more curturally similar to. Although uncomfortable at times, I made the decision to stay at the school I started, regardless of others actions. It took some time but over the years things improved. Looking back, my decision would not change, but it was a decision in which the consequences could have changed my life dramatically. At the end of John Updike's story, Sammy realizes he may have done a stupid thing, but he doesn't go back into the store to ask for his job back. This is similar to my decision of which school to attend. He has finally taken the initiative for the future- and responsibilty for himself.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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Life Lessons Sammy Learned in John Updike's Short Story. (2022, Sep 14). Retrieved from

Life Lessons Sammy Learned in John Updike's Short Story essay
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