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Maybe he will be able to strike up a conversation with her outside the store! “A&P” is the most well-known of Updike’s hundreds of stories, and he was often asked about it.But alas, she and her friends are gone, and Sammy’s sudden dream of romantic and sexual adventure fades on the spot. Jeffrey Brown interviewed him for PBS in December 2003 (available from and Updike mentioned that the origin of the story lay in a real incident, when he was in a store and saw “several girls in bathing suits cruising the aisles, and it was sufficiently startling that it stuck in my mind because although girls in bathing suits at the beach were one thing, girls in bathing suits and bare feet—bare feet on those well-trod tiles—all that sort of made, seemed to make a germ of the story.” When Brown asked Updike about the last line of the story, in which Sammy realizes “how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter,” Updike explained that in the final paragraph as a whole the reader gets“a glimpse of the adult life that he has momentarily put at risk; that is, the Lengels of the world, face grimly going through the necessary task of manning the slot that he has abandoned, and then the vision of married life, of the young mother with her squalling, greedy, candy-crazed child out on the hot parking lot.
Such an incident, if it should occur, would likely turn heads now as it did then, and also inflame the passions of young men.
However, some small details in the story give some clues that it was in fact written in a different era from the present. He is only twenty-two years old yet is already a married man with two children, which likely means that he married very young indeed, perhaps around the age of twenty.
In first person narration, the narrator can write only of what he or she sees, hears, thinks, feels, knows, or is told directly.
Other characters in the story can be known only through what they do, as seen by the narrator; what they say within his or her earshot; what others may say about them; and the opinions the narrator has about them.
His remark “They didn’t even have shoes on” shows how struck he is by their near nakedness.
He is particularly attracted to the leader of the three, whom he dubs Queenie, carefully noting her long white legs and the fact—no doubt every erotic—that she has her shoulder straps down, which leaves an exquisiteexpanse of bare flesh from just above her chest to her neck, which he describes as “this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light.Finally, the general point should be made that the 1950s and earliest years of the 1960s are often depicted as times of conformity. Updike certainly had this in mind when he wrote the story. Murray (available from that in those days, during the late years of the Eisenhower administration and early Kennedy years, “people were expected to conform,” although there was also an“undercurrent of rebellion” and “voices of dissent” in figures such as novelist Jack Kerouac, poet Allen Ginsberg, and movie actor James Dean. The perspective, therefore, is that of a young person—his thoughts, feelings, observations, and actions.Had Updike chosen to tell it from Lengel’s point of view (or Queenie’s, for that matter, or Stokesie’s), it would have been a very different story.In the 1950s and early 1960s in the United States people did marry much younger than they do today.In 1956, the average age for men to marry was 22.5, compared to 29 in the 2010s, the highest it has ever been.Often “A&P” is seen thematically in terms of rebellion against conformity, and that is indeed a valid interpretation, but another rather more mundane approach might explain the story just as well.Nineteen-year-old Sammy is simply turned on sexually by thesight of the three girls in bathing suits.“A&P” has a universal and somewhat timeless appeal, and in many ways it is as fresh now as when Updike first wrote it, over half a century ago.People today still push their carts around supermarkets, and it would still be unusual to see three girls in bathing suits in such a place.According to government statistics (available from in 1960, 37.7 percent of women age 16 and older were in the workforce.This figure rose rapidly to 43.3 percent in 1970, 51.5 percent in 1980, and 57.5 percentin 1990.