A&P Themes and Symbols

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Updike's "A & P" is rich in symbolism and begins in the very first paragraph. Sammy is eyeing the three bikini-clad girls who walk into his supermarket where he is a checker. His reverie is interrupted, however, by a "witch" whose "feathers" Sammy has to smooth. The older generation are typically symbolized in negative terms throughout the story, those women who cannot and will not understand youth. Queenie, on the other hand, is symbolic of all that is alluring about women and life that might be possible for Sammy on the outside, a life that seems palatable yet unattainable to Sammy. Stokesie, Sammy's older co-worker, is symbolic of the life Sammy may well be headed for: married, tied down with children, and few options for another…show more content…
To Lengel's credit, in spite of his stuffiness and self-importance, he shows Sammy patience. He does not yell or order him immediately out of the store, but warns him of the very real consequences of his act. Yet, it is Lengel's adherence to the social code—which says that this behavior must go into Sammy's personnel file and dog him for the rest of his life—that cause those consequences. It is, in a small way, like Greek tragedy. The players in this drama are helpless to act other than the way they do, but it is not the gods who set the parameters of their behavior, but society, with its written and unwritten list of expected behaviors and consequences for deviating from that list. Individualism Sammy asserts his individuality when he quits. He knows that Lengel has every right, according to the standards of his time, to speak to the girls as he does. But by standing up for the girls, Sammy questions those standards and asserts that there is a higher standard of decency that says one should not embarrass others. In deciding which rules of conduct are more important, he asserts his individuality, unlike the girls who slink away because they know they have violated the rules of conduct. Sammy is the only character in this story who asserts his individuality. Two of the girls are simply following their leader, and Queenie is easily embarrassed and capitulates to Lengel. The other shoppers
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