A & P is a short fiction story written byJohn Updike in 1961 and the story is also based around the same time period. The American Academy of Achievement desribed John Updike fame was that his stories often proved to be disappointing and unbeneficial to the main character. This story fits that description very well. The story is based Massachusetts in a town located north of Boston during the summer in the early 1960’s at a grocery store called “A&P”. The plot of the story begins when a boy named Sammy, who is a nineteen-year-old grocery clerk, has his attention grabbed by three girls that walk into the grocery store wearing nothing but swimsuits. The rest of the story is about what happens as Sammy follows the three girls with his eyes throughout the grocery store and what happens when they proceed to checkout and his subsequent resignation. This story, to me, is a great example of the ugly love because of the outcomes it brings in the end of the story. Not an ugly love in a sense of someone hurting someone else deliberately or an argumentative based relationship, but the type a love someone has for themselves and their morals or beliefs and how when those two things combined, it can cause stress in their life. When making the argument that this story falls into the category of “ugly love”, there are a few different things that come to mind.
The first thing that comes to mind is the teenage lustful longing (oftentimes confused as love) that Sammy portrays when the three girls in their bathing suits enter the grocery store. Sammy describes their body types and what color bathing suit each is wearing and throws in a little opinion he has for each one of the girls. He describes one girl as the “chunky” girl (Updike 141-142). Most people would think of that as a bad thing but he went on to describe her plaid bathing suit and her perfectly tan. He even went on to discuss her body by describing her “can”(for those of you that don’t know, a “can” is another word for her butt). Updike later wrote Samm'y explaination of the chunky girl as “…with a good tan and a sweet, broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the back of her legs.” Throughout the story, Sammy often mentions her “can” (Updike 141). He also describes one of the girls and goes on to nickname her “Queenie" (Updike 141). Queenie seems to be the object of Sammy's lust and affection. He clearly preferred her to the other two girls. He nicknamed her that because she seemed to be the leader of the crew with a confident swagger and demeanor. Sammy went on to describe her as well, although he was much more generous with his compliments of her. He described her breasts as “…two of the smoothest cups of vanilla I had ever known.(Updike 143)” This girl had apparently grabbed his attention and there was no stopping his gawking. As most teenage guys can identify with, he immediately gravitated towards her physical attributes and that defined her in his mind. He did this to such an extent that he convinced himself that he was going to stand up for them when his manager confronted them about each wearing only a bathing suit into the grocery store. The girls had not even spoken to him but he had himself convinced that there was a bond there and when the girls were mistreated, his “morals” and “dignity” persuaded him to take a stand. The stand he took was that of quitting on the spot, hoping that the girls had seen his act of valor and would recognize him for doing so and would give him a shot at dating or something along those lines. His teenage lust and clouded mind caused Sammy to lose his job simply by those girls walking in and Sammy not controlling his thoughts in a logical way. This is an example of ugly love in the form of teenage infatuation.
Another form of ugly love in this story is the love a teenager has for their freedom during the summer. Sometimes when teenagers have the freedom to enjoy their summer and come and go as they please with their friends, other teenagers that have to work and have semi-adult responsibilities can sometimes feel inadequate and less than that of their peers. Sammy seemed to be completely fine with the fact that he had a job and was earning money. However, when the girls in the bathing suits walked into the grocery store, he quickly focused on their attributes and talked them up to where they all sounded like they came from more affluent households and were somewhat better than he was on a social scale. He talked about their Herring snacks as if they were an exclusive item at a fancy dinner party and demeaned his own family by talking about his family only serving lemonade at a party and only bringing out Schlitz beer when it was a very special occasion. As most teenagers do, Sammy’s explanation of this seemed to be exaggerated. It was this lack of pride he had for himself that caused him to take drastic measures to gain the attention from the girls in the grocery store. He essentially quit a job and cut off his source of income for a chance that a girl in a bikini would take notice of him and give him a shot. If these girls had not walked into the store in their bathing suits, there is a fair chance that he could have kept his job, earned more money, and had a good example to show his friends and family down the road, the example of working hard and saving money to better his life. It was essentially his longing to enjoy the summer as a youth, combined with his teenage lust and infatuation, which caused him to quit his job.
A third example of ugly love is the stubborn love for themselves and over self-confidence that many young men exhibit. The stubborn pride of young people that causes them to think their opinions and views are always correct and everyone else just doesn’t get it. He told his manager that he was quitting, and his manager asked him to repeat the words again, almost seeming like he wanted Sammy to realize what he had just said. “I quit”, Sammy again stated(Updike 144). His manager, who is a close family friend of Sammy’s parents, explained to him that he was over reacting and there was no need to act in such a dramatic way and to consider the effect of him leaving his job would have on him for the rest of his life as well as what he and his parents would think in the immediate future. Still, while Sammy acknowledged that he would probably regret leaving the job on such sudden circumstances, he was too stubborn to realize that if he had more pride for himself, he would not leave the grocery store.
It is these aspects that combine to form ugly love as it relates to this story: lustful teen infatuation, love of their freedom during the summer, and the stubborn love for themselves. While most of young teenagers would simply deal with the given circumstances and take them as a given, Sammy did not. He acted irrational and immature and it cost him his job and source of income. It has been well documented over the years that women, especially those that look well in a bikini, can have a profound effect on hormonal teenage males. When you combine that with an extreme amount of self-pride, it can often turn….Ugly.
Updike, John “A & P.” Delbanco, Nicholas and Alan Cheuse. Literature Craft and Voice. Second Edition. New York City: McGraw-Hill, 2012. Print.
"A&P Supermarket" Photograph. Bing Search. Bing. 2 November 2013. Web 2 November 2013 <http://chattoogaphotohistory.com/ChattoogaPhotos/JohnVon/A&P.jpg>
"No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" Photograph. Bing Search. Bing, 2 November 2013. Web 2 November 2013 <http://www.mydoorsign.com/Door-Signs/No-Shirt-No-Shoes-No-Service-Signs.aspx>
“John Updike” Achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement. 1 November 2013 Web <http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/upd0bio-1>