Last Updated 27 Jul 2020

A & P: A Study of Society’s Norms

Category society
Essay type Research
Words 699 (2 pages)
Views 349

“I felt how hard the world was going to be for me hereafter,” Sammy mutters at the end of John Updike’s short story, “A & P.”

On the surface, Sammy is talking about the problems he will experience after telling his boss that he has quitted his job, but he is really referring to the beginning of his responsibility to defend people being judged for their appearances, and to stand up to authority when the rules limit people’s freedom and creativity.  He understands the difficulty of the mission he has given himself.

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The episode that changes Sammy’s life happens one day in an A & P supermarket.  As a nineteen year old who mans one of the check-out registers at the supermarket, he observes three girls enter wearing only their bathing suits.

This completely distracts him so that he cannot even remember if he has “rang up” the “Hiho crackers” (Updike) for one of the customers.  On the other hand, he can remember the details of the three girls’ appearances. He thinks less generously of the customer who bought the Hiho crackers, referring to her as someone who if “born at the right time they would have burned her over in Salem” (Updike).

“You could see them, when Queenie's white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and on they pushed. I bet you could set off dynamite in an A & P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists and muttering "Let me see, there was a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce!" or whatever it is they do mutter. But there was no doubt, this jiggled them.

A few house-slaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct” (Updike).

The above paragraph is the best portrayal of the girls’ effect on the supermarket’s patrons.  “Queenie,” as Sammy calls the prettiest of the three girls, has the most effect.  Comparing the arrival of the girls to an explosion signifies the impact, and also the rarity of girls, or anyone for that matter, ever coming into the supermarket in their swimsuits.  Most people follow the dress code implemented in the supermarket, or any other public place besides the beach.  The short story of one seemingly mundane occurrence at a supermarket speaks volumes about judging appearances.

The girls are in the supermarket to buy “a jar of herring snacks” for “Queenie’s” mother and not to make any trouble, but the fact that they are wearing swimsuits have earned them a reprimand from the manager, Lengel.  Lengel who also “teaches Sunday school” and is “pretty dreary” according to Sammy, represents the people in society who make and follow rules and expect others to do the same.  He rigidly implements the rules in the A & P he is managing to the point that after reprimanding the girls, he reminds Sammy about ringing up the girls’ purchase.  Every rule must be followed to the letter for people like Lengel (Updike).

However, even before Lengel’s appearance in the short story, Sammy already observes the glances that the sheep, which is his term for the customers, give the girls.  The girls being in their swimwear has given the customers quite a shock.  Even Sammy and his married co-worker, Stokesie, have become very engrossed in watching the girls.  They may not condemn the girls like Lengel and the customers but their reaction also limits the free spirited choice of the girls to wear bathing suits to the supermarket.  Their behavior suggests that the act is clearly something that is out of the norm.

Defending the girls has made Sammy a hero, but he must make it a crusade to continue the difficult task of making the more conservative people of society understand the value of “live and let live.”  Being sidetracked from such a mission and bowing down to rules that he does not believe in will reduce his defense of the girls as an act of a boy with a crush and not an act of pure honor.

Works Cited

Updike, John. "A & P." 8 November 2007 <>.


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A & P: A Study of Society’s Norms. (2016, Jun 21). Retrieved from

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