Beatles Swept The States English Literature Essay

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From the beginning of this story Sammy is made known as a non-conformist and a rebel. He is against any authority figures. This is obvious when a shopper in her fifties argues with him after he mistakenly rung up something twice because he was preoccupied watching the three girls walk around the store, he compares the lady to a pig and describes her as "a witch about fifty," and says "if she'd been born at the right time they would have burned her over in Salem," (Updike 300). A reader at first might get the impression that Sammy is disrespectful and offensive. From the instant the three girls walk in into the store until the time Sammy departs the A&P as an employee; his mind is occupied with the daringness of the girls to walk into the store with only their bathing suits. One might dismiss this as teenage dreams. However upon going-over it turns out that this is only partly correct.

It's easy to dismiss this as simple teenage dreams. Upon examination it turns out that this is only half right. Indeed, Sammy's extremely critical nature about the girls does make him seem like a jerk. At one point he describes "this one, with one of those chubby berry-faces…the kind of girl other girls think is very 'striking' and 'attractive' but never quite makes it…which is why they like her so much," (300). His categorization of the young ladies only serves his idea to nickname the leader "Queenie", the girl who seems to be walking in front of the other girls and "had talked the other two into coming in here with her," (301). The constant repetition of Sammy viewing Queenie as the leader of the group paints her as a civil rights activist herself. Though she may not know it yet, she will be placed in a situation that will require a defensive and assertive action.

One of the finest examples that Sammy is eager to go against the grain of society's standards is his describing the regular customers who are shopping for groceries as "sheep". As he watches Queenie and her two followers strut down an aisle of the store, he notices "the sheep pushing their carts down the aisle" and the commotion that's starting because "the girls were walking against the usual traffic" pattern (301). These girls have ruffled the feathers of the customers, so to speak, and Sammy observes "a few houseslaves… even look(ing) around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct," (301). His delight that the girls have so blatantly violated the code of conduct as laid forth by the antiquated society these customers belong to is apparent. Also obvious is his disdain for the customer's disgusted and surprised reactions to the girls. In his article titled "John Updike's "A&P": The Establishment and an Emersonian Cashier", M. Gilbert Porter expands on Sammy's hatred for the herd mentality. "Sammy is repulsed by their insensitivity," he writes, "their loss of individuality, and by the joyless, wooden nature of their existence," (1156).

During the climax of the story, the three girls have found what they needed-a can of herring snacks-and made their way to the cash register Sammy is running. At this point the manager of the store, Lengel, walks in and notices the girls. Sammy's description of Lengel is interesting because it truly solidifies the fact that he dislikes the status quo. The fact that Sammy says Lengel walks through the door and "is about to scuttle into that door marked MANAGER behind which he hides all day," suggests that he is bitter about the fact that those with power manage to get away with reaping the benefits of the average man's work ethic (Updike 303). After Lengel notices the girls lack of clothing, he approaches them and informs them that "this isn't the beach," (303). Queenie refutes Lengel by telling him they just came in for one thing; when Lengel tells her that they should still be "decently dressed" she replies "We are decent," (303). Here is where the generational gap is the widest. According to M. Gilbert Porter, "Lengel represents the Voice of The Establishment. As one of the 'kingpins' who enforce 'policy,' he seems himself as the voice of authority, the guardian of the community ethic," (1157). It is this "community ethic" set forth by traditions the elders follow that creates Sammy and Queenie's want for freedom. Sammy and Queenie connect here because while "she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A&P must look pretty crummy," Sammy's gears are beginning to turn in the offensive direction (Updike 303).

The culmination of all of the actions and thoughts throughout the story comes when Sammy quits his job. After witnessing the way Lengel puts down the girls for breaking the mold, Sammy is determined to win the affections of Queenie by breaking the mold himself. Fed up with the constrictive nature of his job and the society he belongs to, he decides to quit. His motivations may be questionable because when he tells Lengel he's quitting he does it so "(the girls) will stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero," but ultimately his action is representative of the want for change and freedom his generation will push for (304). Although his decision may have negative implications on his immediate future, Sammy makes a choice "that not to follow the voice of conscience is to be false to one's own integrity and therefore to live a lie, and Sammy has chosen to live honestly and meaningfully," (Porter 1158).

"A&P" would not be such a meaningful and interesting piece of literature if the author were boring. Updike was a bit of a freedom seeker himself. Not only did he push boundaries with his first book Rabbit, Run (his publisher feared legal action because of the extreme nature of the lead characters sexual experiences), he also was heavily involved in world issues (Academy). Updike was "the youngest person ever elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and was invited by the State Department to tour eastern Europe as part of a cultural exchange program between the (U.S.) and the Soviet Union," (Academy). He would continue to be heavily involved in world issues while also writing literature with empowering characters like The Witches of Eastwick. Perhaps Sammy is just a watered down projection of Updike's own self into a typical teenage situation.

John Updike's "A&P" is a classic and important example of the time in which it was written. The need for change felt so passionately in narrator Sammy propels the story through what should be a standard situation of teenage ignorance and makes it become a representation of one of the most historical movements in United States history. Perhaps it is because Updike was such a worldly and boundary pushing person himself that the story speaks volumes instead of just chapters. So while Sammy thinks he is defying the laws of traditional behavior, he is actually encouraging it as well.