How would you account for the continued popularity of John Updike’s story ‘A & P’?
John Updike’s short story ‘A & P’ was first published in ‘The New Yorker’ on July 22, 1961. Even now, fifty years on, it still, despite its brevity, or perhaps because of it, his most frequently anthologized short story and, one would assume, one of his most widely enjoyed and read. This essay will analyze the popular appeal of ‘A &P’ and reach a justified conclusion about why it carries on being read so widely and with such apparent gusto and interest. The ways in which Updike writes the story are important, as is Updike’s presentation of the characters through Sammy, but just important, in subtle ways, is the date of the story’s publication.
The story is all about the arrival of three scantily clad young women at the local supermarket, the A& P store where Sammy, the narrator and his near-contemporary, Stokesie, work. From the very start of the story Sammy takes an interested and highly appreciative interest in the sheer physical attractiveness of the girls, describing them and the bits of bare flesh that he can see in loving detail. One, the slightly fat one, is wearing a bikini and the most attractive and beautiful of them all, whom Sammy calls Queenie, has the straps of her bathing suit rolled down her arms and off her shoulders, so that above her breasts Sammy can see her bare skin and her flawless shoulders and neck, leading up to her face. It is clear from Sammy’s description that he finds Queenie’s appearance sexually arousing and alluring, especially as this is not a common sight in the A & P:
With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clear bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean, it was more than pretty. (Updike 2)
Stokesie and Sammy ogle and leer at the girls because they are so attractive and there is so much bare flesh visible. By the conventional standards of the era their dress is considered suitable for the beach, but not appropriate for the supermarket. We might feel that Sammy and Stokesie are being rather sexist at leering at the girls, but one of the other big strengths of this story is that, despite its brevity, it is a story in which the main character, Sammy, comes of age and reaches maturity: As Werlock (1) argues:
Initially Sammy joined Stokesie in leering at the girls; though his interest in Queenie’s flesh never wanes, he experiences a turning point when he observes the butcher sizing up the girls.
Or as Sammy himself says:
All that was left for us to see was old McMahon patting his mouth and looking after them sizing up their joints. Poor kids, I began to feel sorry for them, they couldn’t help it. (Updike 4)
It takes the lustful looks of the middle-aged butcher to make Sammy realize that his leering over the girls is not a pleasant action and he starts to dell sympathy for them.
Sammy’s attraction to Queenie is not all based on lust. Werlock (1) writes:
Sammy also admires Queenie of her confident carriage – which, in quitting, perhaps he attempts to emulate – as well as her social status. Queenie embodies a socioeconomic realm to which Sammy, the son of working class parents, desires access.
- Quote paper
- David Wheeler (Author), 2011, John Updike's short story 'A & P' - An Analysis, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/175057