Symbolism in A&P: Conforming to Society's Norms

The symbols that John Updike uses in his short story "A & P” are very important in uncovering the theme of the story. Sammy's coworker, Stokesie stands as a symbol that aids in discovering the theme. The bathing suits that the girls wear are also symbols, as is the apron that Sammy wore a work. Through the use of these symbols, Updike suggests that conforming to society's norms is the only way to lead a successful lifestyle. Sammy's fellow coworker, Stokesie acts as a symbol of the successful lifestyle.

Because Stokesie follows society norms, he is “married with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already" [Upd32). A wife and two kids is a life that many people strive for. ...

The bathing suits that Queenie and the other girls were wearing stand as a symbol of non conformity to society. All of the “sheep” of A&P wear “a shirt or shorts or something” [Upd32], but these girls chose to wear two piece bikinis.

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Because these girls did not conform to the normal clothing, they receive constant stares and judgments from the people within the store. The shoppers of the store "looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct” [Upd32]. Even an employee, McMahon was “looking after them sizing up their joints” [Upd32]. Because these girls are not conforming to the norms, they cannot even complete the simple task of grabbing snacks at the store without receiving heavy stares and harsh judgment, so how are they supposed to lead a successful life? Sammy's apron that he wore at work was his symbol of conformity.

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When he quit and ripped that apron off, he was no longer conforming to society's norms.

Sammy's manager, Lengel, even tells him “you'll feel this for the rest of your life”[Upd32]. What he is implying is that Sammy probably will not have a successful life. Since Sammy have fallen into non conformity, it will be hard for him to find another job in his small town. Sammy realizes this and even says "I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter" [Upd32]. Sammy was fully aware of the consequences he will pay for quitting. By quitting, he is no longer conforming to society's norms, therefore these consequences being an unsuccessful lifestyle. In conclusion, Updike uses symbolism in his story to reiterate the theme that the only way to lead a successful life is by conforming to society's norms. He uses a character, Stokesie to symbolize the successful life that one gains from conforming to the norms. He also uses the bathing suits that the girls wear as well as Sammy's apron to prove that breaking away from society's norms makes it near impossible for a successful life.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Symbolism in A&P: Conforming to Society's Norms. (2022, Oct 30). Retrieved from

Symbolism in A&P: Conforming to Society's Norms essay
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