A & P is highly symbolic story with various thematic expressions. It takes into account the individual and adolescent longings to rebel against the common conventions, class conflict, and the rise of superstore mentality in United States during 1950s. It is also an epitome of American social milieu during 1950s and represents its different shades in colloquial and ironic language. Furthermore, it narrates the psychological and emotional transitions from childhood to adolescence in a lucid manner.
The most important feature of the story is its highly symbolic settings. Updike set up the story in 1950s that was “an age when supermarket has replaced the church as the community’s central institutions”.
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(Wells 132) Gilbert Porter (1972) writes in this regard that, “right in the middle of town, surrounded by ‘two banks and the Congregational church and the newspaper store and three real estate offices’ stands Updike’s symbolic A& P” (p. 1155). So it gives an atlas of the whole American socio-economics set-up in fifties.
Every institute remained a hallmark of American society and its values. The utilization of words ‘right in the middle’ manifests the importance and centrality of these institutional expressions in the American life. A & P symbolizes the “mass ethic of a consumer-conditioned society”. (Porter, p. 1155)
Another important aspect of the story is social structures that Updike’s has constructed and displayed in order to augment the thematic expressions. Sammy, the protagonist can be viewed rebelling against this social structure.
As Larence Jat Dessner puts it, “He is entranced and made enviously defensive by his notion that the under-clad younger shoppers inhabit a higher social station than him” (16) The juxtaposition of visualization to attend a party in Queenie’s living rooms to the factual account of parties at his own home is important illustration of this psychological phenomenon.
Sammy says, ‘When my parents have somebody over they get lemonade and if it's a real racy affair Schlitz in tall glasses with "They'll Do It Every Time" cartoons stencilled on. (Updike) Furthermore, Updike has lighted the differences between one social order and the other in a subtle way. For example, in Queenie’s social realm, people eat “Kingfish Fancy herring snacks in Pure Sour Cream” which symbolizes a privileged social class whereas Sammy eats HiHo Crackers that embodies a lower-class status. Lengel, another character, represents the Puritan work ethic.
Strength of the story is utilization of a mixture of themes in a way that produced a unifocal impact on the reader. In addition to above mentioned conflict of social classes, it encircles the rebellious nature of its time. Sammy is caught in social compulsions at the start of the story and symbolizes a convention-ridden individual.
Queenie and her company is an illustration of the rebellious temperament and any other non-conformist attitude and values. She and her party enter and wander around the store barefooted unlike other housewives and people who only comes with shopping lists and remain totally engrossed in them. Updike again uses a subtle image to symbolize their non-conformist behaviour.
They stroll up an aisle against the normal route of traffic. This metaphorically explains their behaviour that is against the social conventions of the time. This makes realize Sammy of his own conditionality. This generates a desire in him to be different from the society. So he rebels against the society. Lengel is juxtaposed with Sammy as he sticks to conventionalities and embodies the strict professional ethics. Mr. recognize him as “the Voice of the Establishment” (1157). These images illustrate the second theme in a perfect way.
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