In the story "A&P" by John Updike, the main character in the story is a teenager, growing up in a small town who works at the Main St. supermarket for the summer. He finds himself being very judgmental about the customers and fellow employees he works with. By the end of the story, I feel he is standing up for himself and some of the customers that he helps, when the manager "disrespects" them. He ends up quiting his job and then shortly thereafter realizes that he now has no job and no one is looking and hoping that he will come back. I think this represents the ugly side of love more than any other type of love.
The main character, Sammy, is a 19 year old teenage boy. And like any teenage boy on summer vacation, he finds himself in a lame job making little money instead of having fun. With this responsibility comes many different attitudes. Sammy finds himself constantly disrespecting customers by not paying attention, as in the first paragraph, where he describes a woman as "one of these cash-register-watchers, a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows."(p.141,paragraph 1) The woman catches him not paying attention and double ringing her for an item. This is happening because Sammy, like any other teenage boy, notices 3 good looking girls walk in wearing only their bathing suits. He is caught paying more attention to the girls than his job and the woman is not happy about it. After she leaves, he starts to look for the girls whiles standing at his post in lane 2. His descriptions of the girls in the story show what any blue blooded teenage boy thinks about when he sees a good looking girl, let alone 3 decent looking girls.
Sammy starts to describe what he is seeing and labels each girl almost immediately by their looks and mannerisms. There is "queenie" and "the chunky one," which he seems to like the most and then a "tall one."(p.141-142) These 3 girls are seen walking around the supermarket in nothing but their bathing suits. No coverups. They are drawing the attention of not just Sammy, but of the other employees Stoksie and McMahon the deli guy. Many of the other shoppers also notice for a split second to "make sure what they had seen was correct."(p.142,paragraph 5) Then it's right back to the shopping at hand. The girls continue to walk around the store, and all Sammy can do is keep an eye out. "The whole store is like a pinball machine," because Sammy has no idea where these girls will come of from next. Sammy is not the only one labeling these girls either. Stoksie and McMahon make comments and gestures of their own. Sammy can do nothing but wait for these girls to finally get to his register so he can see them up close. Through the descriptions in the story, the girl "queenie" seems to be flirting with Sammy also, in the way that she takes the money for her purchase out of the top of her bathing suit and hands it to Sammy so gently.
When the finally do approach, with "queenie" leading the way, she puts up the one item that they are buying. Sammy seems like he is trying to be cool and make an impression. When the manager Lengel finally sees these girls, you think he is going to also make comments, but he ends up being professional and approaches them to say "Girls, this isn't the beach." There is a slightly argumentative conversation between Lengel and the girls, while at Sammys register. The girls were convinced they did no wrong, but the manager felt differently. "We weren't doing any shopping. We just came in for one thing." "That makes no difference."(p.143,paragraph 16-17) All the while, you think that Sammy may step in and say something, but at that moment he knows he has a job to do and respects his boss. Then Lengel says what a manager would say in this situation, "We want you decently dressed when you come in here."(p.144,paragraph 19) This obviously upsets queenie. Her response to the manager is simply, "We are decent!" The respect that Sammy had for his boss quickly fades with every passing word between the girls and Lengel. Lengel finishes the conversation by saying in a stern voice, "Girls, I don't want to argue with you. After this come in here with your shoulders covered. It's our policy."
Once Sammy finishes ringing up the girls, the girls hurry out of the store. Sammy is heard saying "I quit." Lengel questions Sammy, and he confirms that he said "I quit." Sammy and Lengel now have a back and forth conversation because Sammy doesn't think that Lengel handled that correctly. "You didn't have to embarrass them." As Sammy continues with his gesture to quit, he removes his apron and bowtie. Lengel reminds Sammy of the choice he is making and refers to the fact that he will be disappointing his mother, whom Lengel knows. All the while, Sammy is looking for a reaction from the girls, hoping they see that he stood up for them, but they are long gone already. Now Sammy is outside and finds himself alone, looking back at the store and he must be thinking about what he just did, with nothing to show for it. No job, no money and of course, no girl.
I think that the story portrays a ugly side of love because it shows that even when you think you are doing the right thing, you have to rethink before you act on it. Sammy's passion for thinking that standing up to his boss for the sake of the girls was admirable, but in the end was futile if that. The girls did not stick around to say thank you or hang out with him for his actions. Sammy is not left in the parking lot thinking about this and you are left to wonder what will come next for him.
About the Author:
John Updike was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1932. He began writing at a very young age. He died in January 2009 at the age of 76, leaving behind what many consider the finest legacy of realistic fiction in modern American life.
"A&P" by Updike, John 1961
Literature, Craft and Voice; 2nd edition; by Delbanco,Nicholas and Cheuse,Alan p.141-145