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Although I find the story A&P by John Updike to be entertaining with some comedic interplay, I mostly see this story as a teenage drama that is played out through the eyes of a young man named Sammy. This is a story set in the early 1960’s of a typical teenage boy’s indifferent feelings toward his job, until one particular afternoon. John Updike’s development of characters and his use of diction and imagery are great elements that make this story entertaining. Sammy seems to have a rather indifferent outlook on his job and the people in the A&P.
I see the confliction in Sammy regarding his job in how he looks at the purpose of the store and refers to it as a “pinball machine” rather than an essential part of the community. He also has little regard for the mature women in the grocery store, as he views them as “sheep” more or less grazing down the aisles. He also refers to the elderly woman who is focused on her grocery bill as a “witch”. Rather than being courteous to all of the customers, Sammy only focuses on the bodies of the young girls in bathing suits, typical of a teen boy.
Sammy is very blase about his job which can be seen when he says “The store’s pretty empty, it being Thursday afternoon, so there was nothing much to do except lean on the register and wait for the girls to show up again. ” Over all, Sammy could be described as a typical teenaged boy with no respect or understanding of women who lets his hormones cloud his judgment. The only other character I can truthfully evaluate from this story is Lengel.
He is a seasoned boss who is aware that the only way to properly run a business is to have rules. Lengel understands the necessity of rules and laws in the entirety of society. I do not feel that Lengel’s intend was to embarrass the girls’, it was to defend the feelings of his regular customers and their children. Having been a teenager at one time, I am certain when he says to Sammy “You’ll feel this for the rest of your life,” he speaks from experience, either personally or from observation over the years.
I see Lengel as a gentle person, generous to his employees and gracious enough to give Sammy a chance to change his mind, even though Sammy had publicly humiliated Lengel, his boss, in front of his customers. Queenie, as Sammy called her, there is not much to be said for. What Updike presents is a mere misty image of who the girl really is. The only knowledge we are given of her, is her appearance through another teenager’s eyes. Could she be the insecure, emotionally abused little rich girl? Does she carry herself proudly while feeling worthless about herself inside?
Updike gives hints of this by the way he described the exaggerated lift of her head and neck. The way she walked awkwardly in bare feet, as if her time in the sun barefooted was limited and instead she was kept to higher impossible standards by difficult parents. Without more information, Queenie cannot truly be evaluated. An example of diction in the story is seen when Sammy talks about the minds of girls’. “You never know for sure how girls’ minds work (do you really think it’s a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar? ” It couldn’t be much more obvious that Sammy has no knowledge or understanding of women. He just views them as objects of desire and not as a person that actually has a brain too and can think for themselves.
There was quite a bit of imagery shown in this story as well. Most of it had very good detail while some of it wasn’t as detailed. An example of imagery from this short story “A&P” with some good detail is where Sammy describes Queenie while he is ringing her items up at the register. I uncrease the bill, tenderly as you may imagine, it just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known there were, and pass a half and a penny into her narrow pink palm, and nestle the herrings in a bag, and twist its neck and hand it over, all the time thinking. ” Sammy definitely loves describing Queenie in some interesting detail. Although I am sure this is the picture most men get when looking at beautiful women, Updike’s imagery here using vanilla ice cream generally puts a smile on anyone’s face.
It gives the picture of summertime, warm weather, and the taste of something sweet. I rather enjoyed reading “A&P” by John Updike. His strong use of character development, diction and imagery made it very easy to get a good picture of the story. Sammy, like most other teenagers, still has to mature enough emotionally to understand that we gain satisfaction from inside ourselves, rather than from outside circumstances. No one knows what is going on with other people’s lives, so we should always give them the benefit of the doubt. Put a smile on; it could brighten someone’s day!

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