“A & P” is first-person narrative revealing the delusively ordinary story related by the checkout boy in the grocery store named in the title. In “A & P” the first-person narrator is defined largely by his tone and vocabulary. Updike molds his protagonist through the use of specific writing style, thus Sammy is casual and colloquial. The customers in his grocery are referred to as “the sheep” the commonness of which has been one day disturbed by the appearance of a sexually uninhibited, young ladies in bathing suits.
Surveying the three girls as they wander the aisles, Sammy describes the girls, and here Updike’s style is prolifically intoxicated with the description of the girls with the flights of slang language, trying to show why these teenagers deserve the sacrifice: chunky with “a sweet broad soft-looking can”, breasts, on the other hand, become “two smooth scoops of vanilla”, the shoulder bones become “dented sheet of metal tilted in the light”.
Besides, Sammy’s narration is lard with the discourse markers that make his flow of narration softer and folksy: “kind of jerk”; “she kind of led them”; “she had sort of oaky hair” The colloquial style is expressed not only in the vocabulary of the protagonist but in the violated sentence structures.
Updike’s uniqueness lies in his process of detachment.
Coming in adjective or adverb modifiers rather than main sentence elements, the ironic posture emerges without affecting plot: “and a tall one, with black hair that hadn’t quite frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long–you know, the kind of girl other girls think is very “striking” and “attractive” but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much” Not rare are also broken structures like:
“She had on a kind of dirty-pink–beige maybe, I don’t know–bathing suit”, or “The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle–the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one-way signs or anything)–were pretty hilarious.
” The story is presented through the present-tense narration. Such choice of grammar technique imparts narration the sense of immediacy, makes it a chronicle of one event, so that reader feels as if he himself is a witness of that event.
“IN WALKS these three girls in nothing but bathing suits”, “The girls, and who’d blame them, are in a hurry to get out, … ”, “Lengel sighs and begins to look very patient and old and gray. ”
Updike’s striking adjectives appear often: “kind of dirty-pink–beige maybe”, “chubby berry-face”, “long white prima-donna legs”, “the cat-and-dog-food-breakfastcereal-macaroni-rice-raisins-seasonings-spreadsspaghetti-soft-drinks-crackers-and-cookies aisle”;
Their intrusiveness increases and besides literary irony, they produce an ambiguity of intent or author’s attitude (hence diction) in his story, which is matched somewhat by unexpected metaphors or visual comparisons, like “two smoothest scoops of vanilla”, “outside the sunshine is skating around on the asphalt outside the sunshine is skating around on the asphalt”, “his back [was] stiff, as if he’d just had an injection of iron”.
All of these figures, although appropriate functionally to the text, often call attention to themselves and piece out Updike’s style.
Updike, John (1962) Pigeon Feathers, and Other Stories. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.