Research Paper: Being Yourself in In John Updike’s A&P

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Be Yourself? In John Updike’s A&P

Do you have the courage in choosing in something that you believe is good and true even though it contradict with the society’s opinion, or will you choose to follow the flow of the society’s decision to just play it safe? In the story, “A & P” by John Updike, Updike uses an incident that occurs in a grocery store called A&P to illustrate how the society we live in today is actually suppressing us from expressing the true feeling that is deep inside our heart. In our society today, we have been taught not to look, not to stare, and not to act on anything if it has nothing to do with us personally, even if we may know it is not justified (Dessner). Sadly, if we chose to go against the flow of the society by expressing ourselves, the amount of sacrifice one needs to make is the reason why all people are hiding the truth. Therefore, Updike purposely created characters for this setting to show why and how people in the society blindly follow a “logical” decision to avoid any consequences. However, the main character Sammy, who is a nineteen-year old boy working at the cash register at A&P, is the victim of not making a decision that is constructed by the society, which causes them to suffer both internally and externally.

People in this society have been taught not to judge people by their appearance, but three girls “walk [to the store] in nothing but bathing suits” and get suspended from the store on account of their outfit (Updike 297). The store manager, Lengel is the first person who approaches the girls in a rude manner to ask the girls to leave. This act performed by Lengel may seem logical. However, this is exactly how the social process has shaped the roles of the store manager instead of making decision on a case-by-case basis. Lengel is an executive that usually “hides behind the door marked MANAGER all day,” and does not really care much about anything for the job. However, in this case, he came out from his office and started to question the girls to ask them to leave and even gave the girls the devil “superintendent stares” (Updike 297). His immature way of approaching the girls shows that he was trying to solve the problem as if he only has to. Otherwise, he would take in the consideration that his impatient and rude way of resolving this issue would likely jeopardize the store’s reputation in the community and suffer the consequence of losing some customers for the business. Hence, by connecting Lengel’s misanthropic personalities and his actions, it is clear that the only reason he got himself out of the office to talk to the girls is because he is wearing the name tag that says “manager” on it. Our traditional belief system constructed by the society has specifically shaped every role of positions, so people just blindly follow the path and forget their personal desire to avoid any extra work or unnecessary consequence.

When the girls made such big entrance to the store, everyone else also noticed their arrival with the bathing suits outfits. People started to secretly stare at the girls as they went down the aisle to find the snacks that their mother wanted them to pick up. The customers were like “the sheep pushing their carts down the aisle” slowly and quietly as they passed by the girls (Updike 297). Even some of them go around the girls again to make sure what they are seeing is true. Some customers found it interesting, but some found it ungrateful and inappropriate. However, not one person went up to the girls to say something regarding their improperness or to express some kind of concerns. This is actually not a shocking result in the society we live in today. People have been taught not to look and not to ask, but in most cases that would make people want to stare at someone. It would actually be more comfortable for that person to answer the concerns or questions than being stared at. Still, in most cases, people are not brave enough to break the guideline of not to ask. Subsequently, people start to suppress their feelings and opinions, so they have no chance but to be in troubles due to going against the tide and being themselves.

Nonetheless, in Sammy’s heart, he does not think it is “fair to suspend customers” from the store on account of wearing clothes perceived indecent (Updike 298). As a result, he made a non-socially constructed decision and act of quitting his job as a sacrificial lamb for the three girls although he had been commenting on the girls’ body, posture and décor after the girls entered the store, which almost made people wonder if he was just pretending to be a hero. In reality, no one can be willing to lose their only income source to just leave a nice impression for some cute girls in the grocery store (McFarland). During the conversation between Langel and the girls, Sammy was “hurt to hear” his boss refers to them as indecent, irresponsible and insensitive. Langel stressed to the ladies several times that A & P “isn’t the beach” (Updike 297). Thus, Sammy expressed his true feeling of sympathy when he announced his resignation shortly after the girls were sent away. The intolerance manifested by Langel compelled Sammy to make a difficult decision, which no worker could ordinarily make due to the traditional belief system created by the society. Soon after Sammy left the store, he “looked around for [the] girls, but they were gone” (Updike 299). Although the girls did not reciprocate, the rebellion was equally enjoyed by Sammy. The rebellion worked for Sammy because his sympathy could not be ignored by everybody. Even so, Sammy still “felt how hard the world was going to be [on him] hereafter” (Updike 299). He realizes that he has used his future in exchange for a chance to stand up for what he believes in.

Sammy’s decision is not only a reflection of his sacrifice but also a reflection of the reality. People are usually afraid to say and do what they want but do things based on what is considered socially acceptable. However, although the other workers were also surprised by the grocery store manager’s decision of sending the three girls away given that in every organization there ought to be a learning grace period, none of them showed the courage to act on it – to make a change. However, Lengel was actually on the same side of the spectrum with those people that don’t have the courage to make a change. Lengel blindly followed the perception of what a store manager needs to do instead of what Lengel should do.

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B. Economics & Finance, B/ED, Writer, Educator with experience of 12 years in research and writing.

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