“A&P” By John Updike Presents Readers With A Straightforward

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“A&P” by John Updike presents readers with a straightforward narrative structure that features striking characterization. The first paragraphs contain eloquent descriptions of Queenie and her friends’ physical characteristics and the alluring draw of their blatant sexuality on display. However, a deeper and more specific kind of characterization comes to the forefront as the story develops.
The text contains perceptive character profiles of the various types of newly emerging American consumers. “A&P” was published in 1961. This was a time of rapidly expanding American consumerism and an unquenchable thirst for countless products and services. Lengel, the manager, is a businessman who, within limits, benefits from the capitalist system he
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Sex appeal holds the boys’ attention as the girls walk around the store; however, it is this sexuality framed against the context of capitalism that stirs Sammy to quit his job.
There are multiple moments in the text that offer visual images of this melding of capitalism and sex. Sammy describes the oddity of seeing a bathing suit, not on the beach, but parading around the A&P “under the fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages” (Updike 296). Or again when Queenie retrieves a folded dollar bill from the “hollow at the center of her nubbled pink top” (Updike 297). These descriptive passages embody the merging of sexuality and consumerism that drives the story. They also serve as perfect visual representations of the inherent nature of capitalism’s influence on consumers: i.e., always in the background but never the less forcibly present, or inescapable. Tyson makes a point about how dangerous it is for capitalism to exist as a “distant backdrop” in society (Tyson 133). In this way, capitalism influences people without their conscious knowledge, therefore leaving them ill equipped to tangibly understand and resist its influence. This is the exact dilemma in which Sammy finds himself at the end of the story. The capitalist system that thrives in Updike’s “A&P” is also portrayed more traditionally and straightforward at various other points in the story.

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