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John Updike's Story a & P

Essay by review  •  June 1, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,359 Words (6 Pages)  •  1,158 Views

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In John Updike's story, "A & P," it tells of a checkout boy, Sammy, who quits his job after his boss Mr. Lengel speaks disparagingly to three teenage girls who come into the grocery store on a summer afternoon. In V.S. Naipaul's novel, "The Mimic Men," it begins with Ralph Singh's college years in London during the World War II, and then his return to the TrinidadÐ'-like island of Isabella with an English wife at war's end. Because "The Mimic Men" begins and ends in London, Singh asserts within the larger state of exile that characterizes his postcolonial existence. Both Sammy from "A & P" and Ralph from " The Mimic Men" learn and grow throughout each of the stories. But I come to see Sammy growing the most out of the two.

Even though Lengel does not make his physical appearance until near the story's end, his arrival has in a way been foreshadowed by a number of other characters who preceded him. For example, Updike notes that as soon as the three girls appear in the A & P, the "sheep" -- Sammy's word for the run-of-the-mill customers who plod through the store, pushing their shopping carts, following their prescribed routes -- react to their presence with amazement; "You could see them, when Queenie's white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and on they pushed."

The staff of the market, likewise, can hardly believe it when these three girls traipse in. Stokesie, another young clerk, who is married and the father of two babies, comments to Sammy that the girls make him "feel so faint." An older clerk, McMahon, begins "patting his mouth and looking after them, sizing up their joints." What all of these men are reacting to, clearly, is the presence of sex, raw sex, in an environment, which is usually free of it. After the three girls have paraded through the store for three full pages, Mr. Lengel the manager comes on the scene. Sammy tells us that his boss "comes in from struggling with a truck full of cabbages" when "the girls touch his eye." Our very first view of Mr. Lengel, therefore, shows him engaged in hard, manual labor as opposed to the frivolous activity of the girls.

Lengel's remark to the girls -- "This isn't the beach" -- reinforces this. Sammy observes that the way Lengel insistently repeats this remark seems "as if it had occurred to him, and he had been thinking all these years the A & P was a big sand dune and he was the head lifeguard." Which, in a very profound way, he is: as not only the manager of the A & P but a Sunday School teacher, he feels he has the right to set the tone for what is considered acceptable in his arena. But his "sand dune" is the world of work, whereas the girls' is the world of play. He therefore approaches the girls and scolds them, implying that their attire has violated and desecrated his space. Note that his obvious displeasure at the girls'



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