The basic plot of John Updike’s A & P is that Sammy clerks in a grocery store. Stokesie is a young man who also works at the store, but he is there to support his family.
There are some bold girls that come into the store and are frowned upon by the management. The girls are dressed in beach attire and when Lengel (the manager) refuses to serve them, Sammy quits his job. Lengel warns him “You’ll feel this for the rest of your life," (Updike) and Sammy agrees.
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Sammy will definitely feel this event all his life. By quitting his job, he is rejecting Lengel and his middle-class, uptight attitude. In Sammy’s mind, the girls should be able to come in dressed in beach ware and not be judged. Frivolous behavior should be tolerated and not frowned upon. If they are dressed to scantily and cause people to look at them, that’s okay. They’re young. If men look at them, that is okay too. It’s okay to look at pretty girls without feeling guilty.
Sammy really grows up throughout the course of the story. As Sammy walks away from the store he realizes "how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter" (Updike). Sammy realizes that much of the world is filled with people who think like Lengel, and that he will be the one to buck the system. He is not willing to go along with the status quo, and that will make his life difficult.
The Lengels of the world are just too narrow to simply enjoy watching a pretty girl. Sammy will be able to enjoy those simple pleasures without condemning them.
In rejecting Lengel’s values, he is also rejecting the values of his family or his circle of society. He decides that he wants more in life than vying for a manager position in an A & P. He refers to the shoppers as “sheep” and decides that he does not want to be a sheep.
The girls in their swimsuits simply help bring about that epiphany. Sammy has really won according to his own values, but in the minds of many others, he has lost. Everyone will know that he quit. His parents will most likely be disappointed and might think his reasons frivolous. It is only the beginning of bucking the system for Sammy.
Updike, John. A & P.
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