John Updike’s A&P
John Updike’s short story A&P is a first person narrative of a man called Sammy, while he is working behind a cash register in an A&P grocery. The bulk of Sammy’s narrative is about a group of girls in bathing suits, who went into the store to get something. The story goes on with Sammy, vividly narrating what the girls were doing, describing every detail of clothing that they have, and basically everything that he see behind the cash register. However, at the latter part of the story, we would find out that Sammy is a picture of a discontented worker, who was just waiting for an opportunity to leave his job. What seemed to be a story focused on bikini-clad girls was really a story about an unhappy store worker.
At the beginning of a story, the narrator starts talking about three girls in bathing suits. We this, we can initially think that it is a scene in the beach or by the pool, but it was not. The succeeding statement tells us that the narrator is behind a cash counter, in the third check out slot of the store. He tells the story from his point of view, describing how the girls looked like one by one. He stated that his attention was caught by a chunky kid in a green two-piece. He was doing so while he attends to the usual customers. At that time he was attending to a costumer in her fifties, with a knack of watching the cash registers for mistakes (Updike).
At this point, we get to understand that the narrator is very much used to dealing with different people. Some are nice while some are not, but he knows it is his job to deal with them. He gets by through his imagination, freely thinking “what if’s” towards the people he encounter. After the old woman, he is again left with nothing to do except watch other people go up and about the store. His thoughts return to the group of girls in bikinis. He now recognized a second one with chubby, berry face, who he thinks is attractive and striking, and that’s it. He finally notices the third one, which eventually catches his interest. She wasn’t quite so tall, but for him, she was the queen in the group. Maybe it was because of her beauty, or maybe because she was in the company of not-so-good-looking girls. According to the narrator, she was the one leading the group, not minding if other people were staring at them. The way she walked, the way she acted, and the fact that her bikini top slipped past her shoulders, got the focus of the narrator. He followed them with his gaze, though it was often limited because he was behind the cash register and the store was big enough to hide the three girls.
If we are to make sense of what the narrator is talking about, we could imagine that it was indeed an unlikely sight to have three girls marching down the aisles of a grocery store, with nothing but bikinis on their young bodies. The narrator described that they weren’t even wearing any footwear with them. What got the narrator in awe was that they were in the middle of the town, and that the beach was a few miles away. Indeed, it was really something worth noticing, especially when you are stuck behind a cash counter, waiting for the costumers to check out whatever they want to buy.
The story took a different turn when the manager of the store went out, just when the girls were about to check out what they’re buying, right at the narrator’s slot. The manager, who was revealed to be a Sunday school teacher also, was the conservative type. He tells the group of girls that it was not the beach. Some sort of argument took place between them, with the manager reprimanding them that the next time they enter the A&P store, they should really put something on.
After the girls left, something ticked in the mind of the narrator, revealed now as Sammy. He muttered under a sigh the words “I quit,” directed towards the manager. The manager obviously heard it, and asked Sammy to repeat what he said, and asked if he meant it. Sammy meant every word of it, though it seemed that the encounter with the girls pushed it out of him. We can see that the focus of the story shifted from the three bikini-clad girls, towards the narrator himself. Sammy, who was just an observer at the beginning of the story, became the center of the story. It was open ended though, with Sammy not knowing what would be his life afterwards. The events that led to this is not really shown in the story, but if we try to look deeper into Sammy’s life, we can somehow understand the things he went through.
Sammy’s life and story behind the cash register is very much like other Americans, working long hours in big-shot companies earning barely minimum. We will be able to understand more about by looking into the lives of people who has the same line of work such as Sammy. We will try to look at reasons why Sammy seems to be unhappy and discontented with his job, by comparing it with the situations of other workers in the same field.
Sammy works as a cashier/attendant in an A&P outlet. They earn less than $9 an hour, and work for long hours all throughout the day (Norman). In a Business Wire article dated July 2007, the employees and workers of A&P in New York are filing a class action lawsuit because they were made to work for over 40 hours a week without even receiving overtime pay and proper compensation (Business Wire). The lawsuit claims that A&P’s wage and hour practices towards their hardworking employees were really unjust and suffice to say, illegal. With this at hand, we can connect that one of source of Sammy’s discontent is the nature of his work. He works long hours but he is not properly compensated.
John Updike’s A&P really didn’t dwell much on the detail about Sammy, but with the turn of events at the end, we can see that there are certainly other reasons that made him quit. It’s not that he decided to leave his job on impulse, because the manager is too conservative and argues with the costumers. It could be because of his job, which could be the main source of his discontentment.
Business Wire. “New York Supreme Court Permits Claims against a&P for Failure to Pay Overtime Wages to Advance as a Class Action”. 2007. Business Wire. December 2 2008. <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0EIN/is_/ai_n27306262>.
Norman, Al. “A $10 Minimum Wage at Wal-Mart? Better Wish for Two Front Teeth”. 2007. The Huffington Post. December 2 2008. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/al-norman/a-10-minimum-wage-at-wal_b_75815.html>.
Updike, John. “A&P”. 2008. December 2 2008. <http://www.tiger-town.com/whatnot/updike/>.