Conflict and Change in John Updike’s “a&P”

In: English and Literature

Submitted By DVSFudge
Words 999
Pages 4
Critical Essay
Jason Williams
May 15, 2010
Eng 2510: Contemporary Literature

Conflict and Change in John Updike’s “A&P”

All of the events in John Updike’s short story “A&P” take place in a small town grocery store north of Boston, where Sammy, the main character, works as cashier. Sammy is nineteen, a late adolescent boy on the verge of adulthood. His fellow cashier, Stokesie, is twenty-two, married, with two young children. The store is managed by a much older man named Lengel, a friend of Sammy’s parents. The other characters include a customer at Sammy’s checkout slot and three teenage girls in bathing suits. It is an altercation in the aisles of the store between Lengel, the manager, and the three girls that forces Sammy to face his inner conflict and make a life changing decision.

Updike implies rather than spells out Sammy’s conflict. Sammy is nineteen, almost a man, but as yet without a man’s responsibilities. If Sammy stays in town, we can easily imagine he will soon be in the same situation as Stokesie, who has wife and two children to take care of. Sammy and Stokesie have good jobs, probably among the best the small town has to offer. If Stokesie were to quit his job, he would be abdicating his responsibilities and letting his family down. In the view of the town, such an action would probably be considered madness. For him, the chance to make a radical change in his life’s course has probably passed. Sammy, on the other hand, has a window of opportunity, a short period between youth and adulthood, during which, if he has the courage and the will, he can choose another path.

The A&P sits at the center of town. From the front door, Sammy can see two real estate offices, the bank, and the Congregational church. Lengel is not just the manager, he is a Sunday school teacher, a friend of Sammy’s parents, the reason Sammy…...

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