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The building blocks of self-development are not necessarily always built on positive experiences. Often times the contrived intricacies of employment, authority figures, and one's own age can provide a platform for personal change. The character Sammy, in the story A&P by John Updike, experiences an explosion of rebellion and personal growth triggered by his suppressed feelings, lifestyle, and environment. Throughout the story, Sammy explicitly expresses his desires and surroundings in a cruel and cynical manner. He describes his grey and drab lifestyle decorated in "sheep", "witches" and "houseslaves". The alluring presence of bikini-clad females brings Sammy to a shuttering and climatic resignation, opening the automatic doors to his unknown future where consequences for ones actions are an inevitable hardship.
John Updike could not have used a better way to catch a young man's attention than to have scantily clad women in an uncommon setting and in a prudish era inject them selves into the psyche of a young man. Sammy's attention is completely enthralled by the three young women that walk into the A&P, enough to mistakenly ring a box of Hi-Ho's twice. The structure of the first and second paragraph allows the reader to feel the contradicted and erratic emotions of a teenage boy. The first paragraph opens with strong attention on the three girls entering his world with "nothing but bathing suits" then quickly transitions back to dealing with an elderly woman whom presumably would be hung in Salem due to her witch like demeanor. The girl's actions and the reaction of the customers are very much in tune with many of the suppressed feelings and thoughts that Sammy expresses about his customers. His fondness (of the girls), sexual desires, and positive feelings are continually refuted by negative thoughts. A fond sentiment of oaky hair is side tracked with having a prim face, "the only kind of face you can really have". His inexperience with women is also an attribute to his emotional state. His knowledge of women is a compilation of young screaming wives, and varicose vein mapped legs with children. His knowledge base is also a reflection of women his own age depicted in his assumption of their social interaction, when speaking of one of the girls as being "The kind of girl other girls think is very "striking" and attractive" but never quite makes itâ€¦which is why they like her so much". The bi-polar pattern the author uses gives insight to how Sammy's emotions and lifestyle keep him bound, utilizing his pessimism or the general suppressive and mundane influences around him.
Sammy's surroundings allow the reader to gain insight to the stable and predictable lifestyle Sammy is unknowingly enlisted. His attitude towards his customers is assumedly a conclusion that has built up over time. Most of the shoppers pushing shopping carts have mutated into sheep with a determination that not even a dynamite blast could deter them from checking items off their shopping list while seeking out the next. Sammy's place of employment is an analogy of the coming threshold that he is faced to cross in order to comply with what society (and his parents) expect of him. The A&P is an orderly and predictable place of transactions between consumers and producers. The girls contrast this with their attire and inability to conform to the unwritten traffic rules of the aisles. Stoksie, his co-worker and chum, represents an inevitable and yet undesirable future that Sammy is at odds with. He shares his distaste with Stokesie's lifestyle by pointing out that there is in fact no difference between the two of them despite Stokesie having adorned himself with a wife and children. He even mocks Stokesie's aspirations to be manager someday. The girls appear disassociated with the concept of marriage, children, or any signs of restraint. Sammy feels jealous of the freedom the girls have and represent; after all, it is only a Thursday afternoon in a town that is void of a beach. They have the privilege to flaunt and frolic with opportunity, and all things taboo in the world that Sammy occupies.
The story takes place on the cusp of American youth culture rebellion that would embody the 1960's. Many of the traditions that are part of Sammy's world are undesirable while new things emerge and call for his attention. He is displeased with the general state of his world and the authority figures that surround him. His brief, yet impactful, comment that Stokesie will become manager in "â€¦1990 when it's called the Great Alexandrov and Petrooshki Tea Companyâ€¦" sheds light on the political climate of the time. The Russian substitutes (A&P is actually short for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company) are a strong implication of the political and social state that world is in and how it affects his attitude. The dominant authority figure that resides in Sammy's world is Lengel, his boss. "Then everybody's luck begins to run out" goes Sammy's fitting introduction of Lengel, when he notices the misplaced beach goers. Updike's choice of words to describe Lengel's activities, actions, and over all disposition make it very clear how Sammy feels about him. Instead of dealing with a truck of cabbages, he haggles, instead of walking, he scuttles, and instead of working behind the door labeled MANAGER, he hides. Regardless of all the implied faults, Sammy makes it very clear on several accounts that Lengel is detail oriented and quite aware of his surroundings. When Lengel becomes aware of the girls attire he immediately approaches them and states that the A&P is in fact not a beach. Sammy's only retaliation at this point is his thoughts. His thoughts are passive as he only mocks Lengel for repeating himself and giving a trademark "sad Sunday-school-superintendent stare." When Lengel's exchange with the girls escalates, he brandishes his supremacy and explains to the girls that it is policy to have covered shoulders when shopping there. Sammy's retaliatory thoughts become more direct as he expresses that "policy is what the kingpins want." He implies a link between Lengel, policy, and a greater metaphorical authority figure, "kingpins". Sammy goes on to describe the mechanical process of ringing up the girls and the little song that has emerged from repeating the process over time. The process shows the systematic and robotic lifestyle imposed by his perceived authority figures. Sammy's sympathy for the girls and Lengel's behavior finally drive him to mutter the words "I quit". Lengel's casual response is a clear sign that Sammy's actions are out of character, partially unbelievable, and almost not taken seriously. His aspiration for heroism is quickly rendered defunct as neither of the girls notices his act of rebellion. Regardless of their attention Sammy follows through with what he started - an act of principle. As the dialogue between Lengel and Sammy continues, Lengel tells Sammy that he does not know what he is saying. Sammy's response, "I know you don'tâ€¦but I do", shows a difference of principles and a generational difference between the two.
To no surprise, Sammy finds that the girls are gone when he finally exits the A&P. His casual statement, "of course", implies that the girls where the catalyst for quitting but not the deep seeded reason. When Lengel takes his place at the register it shows the reader and Sammy that the A&P will go on without him and is not the avenue of change that he desires. His stomach falls as the reality of his unknown future and responsibilities become the burden of change and result of challenging authority. Regardless of the realization of his decision, he shares no thoughts of regret. Sammy understands that the process of his self-development will not always be built on positive experiences. His Feelings, lifestyle, and the authority figures around him, have helped mold him and cause him to fabricate a platform for personal change, all on a Thursday afternoon.